September 28, 2008

More on the Artificial Junk

So, we thought the Dum Dums were bothering Mattie... we were right! She is continuing to be happier, play much more nicely with Jacob, sleep better, and have almost no tantrums each day! (Now the tantrums are only when tired or hungry!!!!)

And I had a test I didn't plan: She has been screaming in the nursery lately, but only on Wednesday nights. (She hasn't cried in the nursery since February, and more than a year before that.) It started two weeks after I had been gone for 5 days, so I assumed that was it. But that didn't explain why it was only Wednesday nights. Hmmm...

Three Wednesdays ago we started Wednesday afternoon activities: Speech Club, Children's Choir, then church. We eat dinner at church between children's choir and church. And guess what I was letting Mattie have those nights???


Interestingly enough, the night she had red was by far the very worst of her screaming. And she screamed going to bed that night, and again in the middle of the night. Not to mention I had to drag her to the car after church, hold her into her seat while I buckled her because she was mad about something random. She also had a tough day the following day.

So no, we don't like artificial food colorings. They must be of the devil, because that's about what they do to Mattie!

My Bittersweet Sunday School Lesson

Jesus Healed the Deaf Man

That was the title of my Sunday School lesson I was supposed to teach today. That Jesus healed the deaf and mute man, thus demonstrating His love for him.

So as I sat at a table talking about one of our students who is in a coma on his couch, dying, with a little girl whose mouth does not move the way her brains tells it to, a little boy with autism and adhd, and another little boy who cannot walk, speak clearly, or hardly get his own animal cracker to his mouth, I didn't know what to say.

I couldn't read the words Lifeway had written for me to read. There is nothing inaccurate about them, but the lesson at my table is so much deeper than Jesus healing the deaf, mute man... Jesus loving the deaf, mute man by healing him.

So I sat there struggling to speak with tears in my eyes, knowing that these children know more about this pain than I ever will. They know so much more the wondering if Jesus knows their sufferings. And there I held in my hand a lesson about Jesus healing that man. Yes, Jesus loved that man. And healed him with a touch. Yes, Jesus loves the ten kids on my Special Friends Class roll. So why hasn't He healed each one of them? Why won't He?

(And why did He heal me when I got run over by a car?)

I know the answers to say. But it was exponentially more difficult to look into the trusting eyes of those children and share this story today. I limped my way through, feeling bad for even teaching it. I told them that we all need healing. We all have hearts that don't work right. And that running, speaking, and reading well are not what earn us a space in heaven. They don't make Jesus love us any more than the next kid. And that for some reason, God chooses different challenges for each of us. Life IS hard! And God doesn't always heal us. But I know, that I know, that I know that Jesus LOVES them. So that's what I told them.

The amazing, beautiful thing? That they believe me.

Praise God.

September 23, 2008

Mattie and Dum Dums

Mattie has always been a lollipop lover. And I've always offered lollipops maybe more than the average mother, because I buy the good organic ones that are all natural so they are safe for Jacob. When we were headed to Florida in August, we were almost out of our Jacob safe lollipops, so I bought a bag of Dum Dums for Mattie so she wouldn't be using up Jacob's supply. (I have to order them online.)

I didn't notice it while it was happening, but several weeks after this Robert and I were talking about her behavior kicking back up into high gear again. It seemed like we were going backwards and recovering ground we'd already conquered. She was getting more defiant, strong willed, ugly, and less self entertaining. She was also giving us bedtime fits again. But we just figured it was a phase.

I had ordered more lollipops for Jacob, but continued to give her the Dum Dums because she loved the flavors. After a week or two I realized they really are full of junk and she would just have to get used to the others again. They have quite a few more flavors than they did originally, so she'd just have to take it or leave it. (I packed up all the Dum Dums and have them ready for someone to pass out for Halloween.) Somewhere in the middle of this thinking about candy being unhealthy for her, I had some random thought about her behavior time line and was getting very eager to see her a week away from Dum Dums. Hmmmmm...

Well, it's been about ten days now and I have to say our delightful little girl is back! She's playing with toys independently, reading books for herself, verbalizing instead of dropping to the floor in one second flat while melting down, playing well with Jacob (instead of being nasty just to get a rise), asking cheerfully for things she wants, accepting the answer "No" without major conflict, etc. Now, she's not perfect by any means, she's TWO! But she is sure a different child! I think she feels better too.

The Dum Dums were the only diet change in there. And she was having 2 or 3 a day on average. We were doing Benadryl some that was probably contributing to the cycle as well. And I do remember a time in the past when I've given her Fruit Loops for a snack (like bought a box and she consumed most of it). And I remember thinking that I thought they made her cranky so I didn't buy it again! I guess there really is something to this!

Here are the Dum Dum ingredients:
Sugar, Corn Syrup, Citric Acid, Malic Acid, Salt, Artificial Flavor, Color Added (Includes Red 40, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Blue 1)

Here are the ingredients in Yummy Earth Lollipops I order on Amazon:
Organic Evaporated Cane, Juice, Organic Tapioca Syrup, Non-GMO Citric Acid, Organic And Natural Flavors (Watermelon, Lemon Oils, Pomegranate, Orange Oils, Raspberry), Organic And Natural Colors, Red Cabbage, Purple Carrots

There are definitely days that I'm thankful for my kids' food allergies (not saying Mattie is allergic to these, though). If it weren't for my experience with them, I'd be feeding them all sorts of horrible things with no attention paid to food-behavior connections. I do get tired of the inconvenience of it all, but that lack of convenience has served as protection for my kids' health. That is priceless.

September 22, 2008

Meeting Needs

Many of you know that I always recommend The Marriage Builder to anyone asking for good books on marriage. It is an excellent book! We went through this book with our good friends before we got married and I believe it has played a large role in the foundation we have.

One of the main themes of this book is about getting our needs met in marriage. The author uses the example that if I see myself as hungry, my goal is going to be to get that need met. But scripture says that God will meet my needs, and I need to trust Him for that. So I have a two-fold focus in our marriage: to trust God to meet my needs, and to make myself available for the Lord to use me to meet Robert's needs.

I can honestly say that this has been a foundational concept in our marriage. It has stayed in the forefront of my mind and been part of my conviction many times when my attitude has not been one of selflessness. I am very thankful for this!


Robert has a work schedule that keeps him away from home often. And we have a life that moves on when he is not home. Sometimes that schedule changes unexpectedly, but our commitments still move on. This has caused some tension this past 6 weeks for a lot of different reasons... perceptions were different, thoughts weren't being shared, those unshared thoughts were allowing Satan a foothold, that foothold grew into more thoughts that created actions... You know the cycle! I started to wonder what Robert was thinking about some things and instead of asking him, I decided to test it out a bit and see if he changed his tune. Doesn't sound good, does it?

Meanwhile, I have been feeling a lack of connection with him. We have had a very busy 6 weeks, unlike any we've ever had as a family, I believe. But I also believe we were going within our shells in this busy-ness instead of staying out and communicating. When we were camping this weekend I was growing increasingly frustrated with this and was asking the Lord to show me what I needed to be doing differently. Didn't take long to get the answer this time! (Thankfully! I had a raccoon sneaking up on me in the dark and I was ready to head to the tent!) He showed me pretty clearly that my attitude stunk and I was the one with the selfishness problem!

I realized that in deciding to test the waters, I had immediately changed my focus from serving Robert to seeing how he'd react to me. I was looking for his behavior change, but it was all relative to my desires. Things I wanted him to think or say or do... for me. Not what can I think or say or do... for him.

There have been times where I've lost this focus in the past, but normally I can keep the battle inside my head. This month I have failed miserably at that, and it was pouring out and changing my behavior in our marriage. Marriage is hard! But it's so much harder when I'm acting with a focus on myself and my needs. Praise the Lord for His conviction and a new start! I got the kids occupied yesterday so I could have a chance to apologize and ask for Robert's forgiveness. I feel lighter today and all feels right with my little world! I feel more "connected" than I have since the beginning of August.

So I have I have a two-fold focus in our marriage: to trust God to meet my needs, and to make myself available for the Lord to use me to meet Robert's needs. And what a blessed difference it makes when I'm focusing the right lens.

September 16, 2008

My Little Ballerina

You guys have heard me say before how much Mattie loves music and dancing. So I started looking around for a Creative Movement class that was for 2 year olds. There is a studio in a local church that teaches ballet, but they also focus a lot on worshiping God through dance, and I really like that idea. (Though you'll never see me doing that! God would be totally insulted at my dancing for Him, let me tell ya'.) This class is for 3-4 year olds, but she opened it to mature 2s (that is an oxymoron) because she was hoping for more students. Mattie and another 2 year old were the two young ones in the class, but Mattie did great!

Here she is all ready to go! (We had to scramble a bit, because we just found out about it last night. We found these slippers in the dress up box, but they'll do until we can get her a pink pair somewhere.)

Here she is jumping over the "rivers."

And here she is doing something else adorable, I don't know what. It was soooo cute to watch her!

September 14, 2008

Mattie's Shiner

Mattie was jumping on the bed.

It didn't work out too well.

So much for our family picture appointment the next day!

(She's also had cellulitis on her arm in two spots where she got infections after spider bites. Just in case I ever say we can survive without insurance, remind me to go back and read my blog stories for this child!!!)

How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World

Our week with apples!

We started off with a visit to the Apple Orchard with some friends. At this orchard, they feed all the kids an apple fritter and some fresh cider. I think this is the first time ever I've let Jacob eat something where I didn't know the ingredients. He's been doing better with reactions lately, so I thought I'd give it a try. He wasn't too keen on the fritter, so he just had a few bites and seemed to do just fine. I also let him have a piece of taffy where I knew corn syrup was the first ingredient. He did notice that he was having the same thing as everyone else and was very happy about that.

Mattie LOVES these two little friends!


We spent a day painting at home which of course was a hit. Jacob used the apples to make apple prints. Mattie used the apples to paint her hands. Go figure!

And Jacob wanted to make his own apple tree as well.


Our Taste Test

This was part of dinner one night. I'd never heard of some of these varieties, but we enjoyed them all!


And of course, you can't do this unit without making apple pie! (Why did I assume apple pie was hard??) Ours was delicious, though Jacob wasn't much of a fan. He said, "Um, Mom? This isn't as good as I thought it was going to be." Oh well, more for us!

This was our first week back to organized unit studies after a crazy summer of unschooling like units. It was good to be organized again (though I have no idea what we're starting tomorrow!) and have something to show for our learning.


I realized I stopped before I added our applesauce pictures!

I've never made applesauce before, so we went to Grandmama's and she helped us out.

It was very yummy!

September 12, 2008

Who Knew?

I grew up the third of four children. For my first eight years, I was the youngest of three. I was apparently the easy one, the good one, the strong one, the dependable one, the obedient one, the smart one. (I knew inside I wasn't all of these things, but I sure worked hard to be them.) I don't remember necessarily being praised directly for these things, but I overheard them regularly. Most times they were said in my presence as a compliment or by way of introduction. I was eight going on twenty, twelve going on thirty. That's a good thing, right?

I seemed to know my role in the family. I had two siblings who seemed to cause trouble of their own, so I learned not to cause any more. This served two purposes: it kept me in my place of the easy child, and it made me very self sufficient. It also made me very prideful. As long as I was doing better than they were, than I was doing just fine. I also seemed to think that I should do as much as I could without help, only going for help when I'd done all I could on my own.

I believe I have had this strong, self sufficient personality all along. (This is not my parents' fault, I mean.) I'm pretty sure some of us are just born this way, but it was very much my identity, so there's no way I could have sacrificed it. I suppose I could have rebelled in order to demand attention, but by that point, negative attention wasn't what I was looking for.


Adult life is full of issues to conquer. Emotional issues, health issues, family issues, childrearing issues, spiritual issues, etc. I tend to do most of this conquering by myself. I do most of my crying in the shower by myself. I find my answers on my own. I tend to deal with my issues on my own, then come out into the light once I'm put back together. I don't want to be a bother. I don't want a fuss made about me. I am very stoic on the outside when in reality, I am totally in pieces on the inside. Sometimes I wonder if I'm functioning as if I don't need relationships other than Robert, or if I've built scaffolds around myself to replace them.

I struggle greatly when I know I've let someone down. I know very well that I'm not perfect, but times are few and far between that I'm not bringing my personal best to the table. My best includes being real and trying to do the right thing to begin with, and being quick to make it right when I know I've blown it. I feel like I'm not allowed to offer any less, or I won't be that person I've always been anymore. (Not to mention it's what scripture requires of me.)


Put all of that history together and into my walk with the Lord. Earlier this summer, I was emotionally drained. I had been through months of challenges and weariness was setting in. I actually felt like our family had relocated I pulled back so much. I was tired for a lot of reasons and weary of our house/job situation that has needed resolution for two years now. I was absolutely exhausted of trying to please people. I was doing my best and it seemed that wasn't enough, and my best had never not been enough before. And I was done trying. I didn't have anything else to offer in any of it. I had never not been able to pull myself up by my bootstraps before.

I was talking to the Lord one day after the Beth Moore Simulcast in August. I had so many good notes, but my brain was so jumbled up I couldn't even articulate an organized thought to pray. I said to Him, "God, all I have to bring today is my hurt, my weariness, my brokenness, my wrung out heart."

He answered me. He said, "That's all I've ever wanted."

Mmmmmmm. What rest there was that day. I had nothing to offer. I wept, thankful He didn't want me to try. He didn't want my warped view of our relationship. He wanted me to come at the beginning, not after I'd done all I could on my own. He didn't need me to say I was sorry or try to be someone I wasn't. He didn't want me to pull myself together before I asked Him for help.
He wanted me.
Me. He met me right where I was and took care of all the rest.

"Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
Matthew 11:28-29 NASB

What a blessed God I have. To allow me every one of those struggles so many months in a row just to get me to that one day. That sweet time will be a cornerstone of my relationship with Him from here on out, I'm certain. It will change it forever. I had never realized how much self sufficiency I brought to my relationship with God. Not because I thought I could do it on my own, but because I didn't want to be a bother to Him.

Life is hard, but oh! God is good.

I'm a homeschool student now too!

One of the areas about which I have always felt totally ignorant is government/economics. I understand supply and demand to a point, and I know about the house, senate and all that stuff. But my only recollection of any of these things in school is a unit on each in eighth grade. I even requested World magazine for a Christmas present in order to educate myself, but it's way too far over my head! (I called to see if I could go down a level!) Admittedly, I have no understanding of the cause and effect relationships between these two subjects. And foreign political relationships are even further from my comprehension!

I heard two weeks ago that a friend of mine is teaching a government/economics class for a high school coop at church. I was soooo envious! As a couple of days passed, I realized it was on a morning when I was already headed to church. Hmmmmm, surely I could make this work! Well, it has! I go in two hours earlier than I would have otherwise, and a friend from Bible Study meets me there and feeds my kids breakfast. Then she plays with them until she drops them off for Bible Study childcare for me.

I've sat in on one class and done one week's worth of homework so far. I'm still waiting on all of my books to come in the mail so I can catch up. I loved the class and learned a lot already! I have to say, that if school was free (and they offered childcare) I'd keep going and going just for fun. I love learning new things! But this is actually a subject that I think is so critical to this time. I want to vote because I have a clue why I think what I think. And now I just might, maybe even by November 4th.

Edited to Add: Here are the materials we're using. Whatever Happened to Penny Candy,
A Bluestocking Guide (companion to Penny Candy), and Common Sense Economics (all included in the curriculum). I think reading the two books would be very helpful, though I haven't seen either of them yet.

September 08, 2008

Another Set of Grandparents

I initially intended to include this in my post last night, but I got lost looking for pictures and forgot. We are blessed enough to have an extra set of grandparents to be thankful for, Mattie's birth grandparents.

"Aunt Paula and Uncle Mark"
You are grandparents from afar, but I know you love Mattie as much as if you saw her every day, I have no doubt. You always send thoughtful gifts, encouragement, and notes about Jesus at holidays or just random times. You are always so kind to include Jacob as well. You loved on Mattie for a whole day last year while I went skiing for the day! And I'm absolutely certain you loved every minute of it. You have entrusted her to us graciously, and that is a gift to which nothing will compare. It is very apparent to me that we're raising your grandchild, though in a different way than you expected. We love you guys dearly and are so thankful you are a part of our lives! We want to have you as close as possible while respecting the distance you may need as well.

And how do I not have any pictures of you?? I know you guys have pictures with her because I remember shooting them on your camera! You'll have to send me one to put here!

I'm going to take this chance to ask too, about reader's opinions for what to call them. We do Aunt Paula and Uncle Mark for now, but to me that's not a fitting name. I don't know why. It seems too ordinary for their relationship to Mattie. Their relationship to Mattie is so unique, and I want to set them apart. (We have a lot of other Aunts and Uncles!)

Mattie also has another set of birth grandparents that love her as well, I know. We haven't seen them since she was born, but I know they love her no less.

September 07, 2008

Happy Grandparent's Day!

I always have good thought of having my kids make cards or calling on this day, but every year I forget about it until it's too late! Today I noticed it on my calendar and thought this was a good way to acknowledge the four special grandparents in our lives. We have two sets with the same names because my kids weren't born when names were chosen so we got what we got.


Grampa Harvey, My Dad

You love to play and be silly with my kids! Your brain is often engrossed in work related things, but when you notice (or are clued in) that the kids are wanting some time with you, you are very intentional to give it. You care for them and have given me many mom's days out when I'm visiting. (He is also one of the main reasons I have so many beautiful pictures of my kids!) Thank you for being so generous with us! We love you!


Gramma Linda, My Mom

You are so helpful to me! You have come to my rescue many, many times when I've been engrossed in a major house project. You read a lot of books to the kids and have put in many hours of board games with Jacob. You have also taught them some of the finger plays and songs about Jesus that Gramma used to do with me. I love having those passed down! You also are very interested in their special diets and are often noticing if there's a new product they can have. You are quick to treat them as well! And I can't let it go that it's always fun to hit the outlets when you're here for a week. You just get overtaken by some gramma-itis and give Mattie's wardrobe a great face lift! (Jacob would prefer his treats be in the form of something with wheels, though you have treated him to many fun clothes too!) You have also endured many hours of activity that are totally not Gramma friendly (meaning lots of walking and no AC), except that they involve my kids. You've been through several days of hot theme parks just because you knew my kids would enjoy them. We love you!


Grandpa Bob, Robert's Dad

Both of my kids love you! You will have a special jewel in his crown for all the hours you've logged of Thomas Tracks and Trestles Game with Jacob and Candy Land lately with Mattie. You play with them, always offer them food, read to them, let them climb on you and be way too rowdy with you, and never correct them without a smile. You LOVE to spoil your grandkids! We love you!


Grandmama (or Grandma Peggy), Robert's mom

You are a huge help to me as well! You are always very giving of your time and are very quick to watch my children even when it isn't convenient. You have offered many times when you could have been doing other things, and probably should have been. If I see it correctly, you are one grandma that would rather be doing little else than serving her children or grandchildren, I feel sure. You love my kids, are real with them, are patient with them, reinforce what they're learning about Jesus, make messes with them, and really triy to do all the fun things a kid would want to do at grandma's house. You are full of grace (and a reminder to me to be as well) and love all of us no matter how imperfect we are. We love you!


We are tremendously blessed with the parents we have and the grandparents my children have been given! They are grandparents who love the Lord first, who are still married and an example of sticking with a commitment even when it's not all stars and roses, who love all of their children and really did their best with each one of us, who pray for and desire to see all of their children and grandchildren walking in truth, and who realize that time with the grandchildren is the way to do that. Thank you, Lord for the gift you have given us in them!

(I've also noticed in this picture search that I have far too few pictures of all of you!)

My Reality TV Experience

Here's an excerpt from a post a day before I left for Joni and Friends camp so you know what I'm talking about.

Joni - like Eareckson Tada, Joni - called the local Joni and Friends office from California last week and they are sending the media team to do a video highlighting short term missionaries. So they asked if I would be a part of it because I'm new. I said, "Sure!" Little did I know what they really meant! It's not just a small interview like I thought... it will be in a reality tv format and I'm the main character! Hmmmmm... should be interesting! It's actually gotten quite comical as we little nobodies communicate with the California office. I've never had a producer call me before! Ha! They'll be there when we pull in until when we pull out. It's called "No nerves!" So I guess I'd better not be nervous. The director passed on a message that said, "Just be yourself." Well, that's all I've got, so maybe I'll come out okay.
So, how was it? Very interesting! (Here's the post about my week at camp, reality tv aside!) I arrived before the camera crew, and when they got there an hour later, the craziness began. They were a crew contracted by Joni and Friends to do their tv show. Franklin Films is owned by Ken Carpenter. In some random conversation I found out they produced Amy Grant's Dove award winning DVD from last year, some Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W Smith stuff as well. Boy, were they in for a surprise with me! I'm not too refined in case you don't know me.

They were not only there for me, but to focus as well on the director of a local Joni and Friends office. She had some interview time as well, and there were two camera guys, so there was definitely some time where they were elsewhere. The focus of the part involving me was Family Retreat from the Perspective of a First Time STM (Volunteer). That involved my anxiety, excitement, preparation, training, joy, sadness, victory, and exhaustion.

First I reenacted my arrival in Darlene's van. I was pretty nervous at the beginning. I was driving in (a van I'd never driven with very sensitive brakes - made Mark fall against the dash from his precarious position on the edge of his seat once!), pensively, while answering questions posed by the director behind me (and trying to rephrase his question as part of my answer), with a camera pointing at me from the passenger seat. And be natural! Ha! Thankfully, we got through the reenacting part (I am totally not an actor) quickly and moved on to just being myself. That I can handle.

Joel (Jo ell), Me and Mark
There was a director and his three boys along as well, but they left before we had a chance to get to the camera.

My camera friends usually showed up at devotions each day before 8 AM and stayed around until my camper crashed each night around 9 or so. I did have a free time break for a couple of hours each afternoon, and boy did I need that, though not necessarily because of the cameras! (I went straight for my chocolate stash, my Bible and Bible Study, and my phone, unfortunately in that order.) Other than that daily break, I had a mic on me virtually all the time. Even if they weren't recording at a particular moment, they could still hear my voice in their ear. (Actually, it would be very handy to have this for Jacob sometimes!) So basically, my "friends" followed me around the whole time. I'm sure they turned their volume down. I can't imagine listening to me all day long! And I did have a mute button for potty trips or a few girl talk moments. :)

We did some formal interviewing where we chose the background and I pretended the camera was not there, then some interviews where it was much less formal and I spoke more directly to the camera. The interviews got easier as I went along too. I definitely fumbled my way through many of the questions. Thankfully they have a lot to choose from! Other than the interview time, I just got used to having a camera or two hanging around.

Katherine was intrigued by some video Mark had shot of her while at the rifle range.

It was a little odd, especially when I knew they were there, but I got used to ignoring them. There was one time that I had my head bowed for prayer. You know how you sense when someone is looking at you?? So I opened one eye and one of the cameras was less than 18 inches from my face. Try not laughing out loud at that one!

Overall, I would say it was a great experience. Once the director and his kids went home, Mark and Joel ate with our little group most of the time, so we got to know them too. I think I surprised them by asking questions about them, but I have to work at not talking to people, so I said if they were going to sit with us, Michelle (my camper's mom) and I assumed they were going to engage! As far as I was concerned, they were more friendships to be made, camera crew or not. They just became a part of our little camp family by the end and seemed to enjoy being included. I was glad to have gotten to know them. They're two great guys.

Michelle, Mark, Katherine, Claire, Joel, Me
Our Joni and Friends 2008 Family Group!

Two frustrations I had: Some people avoided me when the cameras were near. Some people still stuck around, and as the days went on others came closer, but the filming was definitely a hindrance for some people (though not because the camera crew was insensitive at all). Thankfully there was plenty of relaxed partying in our girls cabin when they weren't around! I also didn't want people to think I was doing anything differently for the cameras in a performing sort of way. I certainly would have done everything the same (well, except that I don't normally reenact things!), and thankfully the situation was one where I felt very comfortable (being around the special needs population), so it really was natural. I just had to decide that the Lord knew my heart and I couldn't worry about the rest. And that making this DVD was serving Joni and Friends in a different way in the long run.

The show will air in the Spring. That's all I know. And surely I'll get a free copy of it! (In case you're interested, here's Joni's tv website where you can watch other episodes online.) It will be interesting to watch my 5 days of camp summarized in a 30 minute segment! I know their goal isn't to spin it a certain way, but it will be interesting to see how situations look when only a 10 second snippet is shown. I'm certainly curious to see how it turns out!

I ended the experience as I began it. Driving Darlene's van "alone." Except this time I had Krystal and Caroline with their heads between their knees behind me. And Darlene's head was in my lap! That is some good girlfriend bonding, let me tell you! The camera guys were filming my departure (from outside the car this time) and we were all in the van laughing hysterically! I actually had to stop driving because I was laughing so hard, though I'm certain it was a "you just had to be there" moment that was exponentially funnier because we were so exhausted. I do know at least 4 other people in this world think it was funny.

So there you have it. My few days as a reality tv subject. I'll let you know when it's airing in case you're curious. I'm sure interested to watch it!

Editing to update a few years later:
I thought I'd include a direct link to the episode for ease in case you're interested.

September 03, 2008

I'm Back from Camp!

My brain is still total mush from exhaustion and social output, but I'll try to summarize my weekend. I have to say that as much emotion as I feel about my experience may just come across as wordy details to someone who's merely reading. I'll tell you anyway and do the best I can.

I realized I should post a general description of Family Retreats for those who might be interested. Joni and Friends is a ministry to serve families affected by disability. In the summer, they host Family Retreats all over the country for people to attend. There is financial assistance available, so don't let that throw you off immediately.

Families come and enjoy fun outdoor activities adapted for ALL disabilities (ziplines, rope courses, fishing, tubing, swimming, etc.), small groups, rest, worship, music, comedy, dancing, a talent show, and family style dining. It is an opportunity to be accepted and loved like nowhere else. There is no person that is too odd, strange, loud, uncooperative, or disabled to fit in and be loved and celebrated at camp. Each family has an STM (short term missionary) assigned to the person with disabilities who will spend most of the camp with that person. The STM's responsibility is to host, help with mealtime, and stay with the camper so the caregivers are free to experience camp at their leisure. It's definitely a great time for all! I would encourage every family affected by disability to attend. If you know anyone who is affected by disability, please let them know about it. And anyone else who wants to serve as an STM. It's a great time to get out of one's comfort zone and serve others!

Here's what camp was for me...

We arrived at Camp ASCCA in Alabama for a Joni and Friends Family Retreat. It's set on beautiful Lake Monroe and is a great place!

perfect quiet time spot!

We arrived and got settled while feeling like twelve year olds. We were in bunks - 16 per room! - and had community showers! I was not surprised because I had looked online at the camp site. I also had no previous camp experience to which I was comparing, but it was evidently drastically different from years past. I cannot even begin to pass on all the conversations that were had about these two details. Darlene and I ended up finding an unused shower with a curtain in another building that we frequented instead. All in all, we all decided that the positive definitely outweighed the negatives of the housing situation. We had many late night talks and laughs in our delirium (not to mention line dancing at almost midnight) that would never have occurred were we in hotel style accommodations. I made 14 friends I would have missed otherwise, not to mention the 16 ladies on the other half of our cabin!

We had two training sessions at the beginning and then got our camper assignments at 10:30 on Friday. Remember what I said about getting a teenager?? Well, no surprise, I got a 19 year old. And a 13 year old apprentice helper named Claire!

Michelle, Me, Katherine, Claire

My camper's name is Katherine. She has a genetic disorder with many autistic like characteristics. She is non-verbal, though definitely not non-communicative! In all my experience, I've not interacted closely with anyone like Katherine. I knew the non-verbal part would be a challenge and might make for a long weekend (only because talking can fill up a lot of walking or resting time). Talking with people with special needs is half the fun, sometimes. So that was my anxiety: not being able to understand what she needed or wanted from us.

Meeting Katherine didn't go so well as she was exhausted, late, overwhelmed, and not too interested in a new friend. Katherine's mom is Michelle and was very friendly and easygoing.

One fun part of the weekend is welcoming all of the families. We made posters with all of their names and stood cheering as they arrived and get out of their cars. It's a great way to let them know how excited we are that they're with us for the weekend!

I had asked the Lord to give me a gift of understanding by lunchtime. I wanted to know some of Katherine's communication so I could help her feel secure, loved and have a great time. God gave us that gift within the first half an hour! Claire and I quickly noticed Katherine's attempts at communication and Katherine seemed to be settling in with us nicely. We took her to the rifle range and she loved shooting! That was the first smile we saw.

Later that day we did the zip line twice (my first time!) and seemed to enjoy that as well, though no smiles.

More settling in with each other, and the highlight of the weekend... seeing Katherine grin from ear to ear while riding around the corral on a horse. She absolutely LOVED it! Thankfully our group was small so she got to do it three times!

We had one last chapel service and loaded everyone up! Took some last pictures and said our good byes.

There was so much more that happened, but the details would probably be very boring to read and would make for a much longer blog post than this already is!

Claire was a delight to work with. She's teachable, cheerful, responsible, helpful and dependable. We got along great! She's definitely my kind of teenager!

I was very weary by the end of every day. Not sleepy, but just needing to shut down a bit, I guess. I had a camper who did not talk and it was my responsibility to provide a great camp experience. Then I had Claire and Michelle with me almost the whole time as well. We all got along perfectly, but I was worn out by days' end, that's for sure!

I had a delightful time. A week like this is vacation for me. I LOVE being around this population. I'm definitely going back, and now that I've been once I know how I could do it and take my kids along. I'd like for them to grow up with camp memories full of their friends with disabilities.

Robert (who was home with the kids) started throwing up within 4 hours of my arrival at camp... nothing like some spiritual warfare to start off the weekend. It proved to be quite a distraction as I struggled with total guilt and second guessing my decision, but finally was relieved of that during some very welcome quiet time I had with the Lord on Sunday afternoon. I had prayed for some time about going, the Lord made a way, Robert was okay with it before I committed, and I had no control over his stomach virus. One of my friends at camp who knew I was struggling said, "Do you trust that you are where the Lord wants you this weekend? If you do, then you have to trust that Robert is right where the Lord wants him as well." Hmmmm... sounds harsh, and I certainly wouldn't wish that experience on him, but God was in control here too.

There was a talent show Sunday evening. Many of the people with disabilities performed in different ways. They sang songs with words that were not understandable. They had no noticeable pitch accuracy. They stumbled all throughout their performances. But they had practiced hard, had more heart and less pride than anyone I'd ever seen, and each one of them received an exuberant standing ovation from their peers. That is one show I'll go to again and again.

One of the highlights of this trip was the drive there and back. I rode with a friend, Darlene, and her two teenage girls (who had school work to do). Darlene and I teach SS together and do other disability ministry things, but rarely have time for a conversation, so I was looking forward to some time to visit with all of them. We had a great time! We had some good girl talk, totally avoided economics in the back seat, and arrived totally giddy and excited about the weekend. The ride home was no less exciting. We began in hysterics about a camera crew incident, celebrated with Starbucks, and kept ourselves in stimulating conversation as an effort to keep our eyes open. I have to say that if my children turn out anything like these girls, I'll be more than pleased!

Caroline, Darlene, Me, Krystal

I have no absolutely complaints about the weekend. It was fantastic and is an experience that would bless anyone. I would encourage families affected by disability to attend and be loved on, served, accepted, and celebrated. I would encourage anyone else to attend camp in order to serve, accept, love, and celebrate. What a privilege!