Luke 14 2011

Luke 14 was a huge success this year!  This was the first year we did two nights – one night for children with disabilities and their families, one night for adults with disabilities and their families or caregivers.  It was a blessing to be able to honor almost 300 friends with disabilities this year!!
If you’re not sure what Luke 14 is, see more about it here.   
You can see photos and stories of other Luke 14 years there too!
Hope was our speaker for this year. She was born after a failed abortion and was subsequently adopted by Christian parents. Hope loves to laugh and is a joy to be around!  Her story of life, victory and hope is simply amazing!
 Our worship pastor was playing dinner music and happened to start Amazing Grace.  This sweet guest walked right up, confidently took the microphone and started singing for us! 
The petting zoo is a huge hit every year, and this was no exception!  (My Jacob got to get in on the snakes before he was put to work!)
This sweet little man wasn’t even performing with this group, but just came right on up to join in!  (We have a photo of him doing this a year or two ago too!)

It was nice to see some familiar faces at the popcorn booth!  My 5yo, Mattie helped my mom keep everyone stocked up on the popcorn.  This was truly a labor of love for that little girl.. She loves popcorn, but is allergic to dairy, so she served this all night without being able to have even one bite.  :)
We tried to have more take home booths this year.  We had barrettes for the girls and women to make, bird houses to be painted, cookies to decorate and flowers to plant.  This little guy was pretty psyched about his flower!
Bubbles and donkey pulled wagon rides were only a small part of the outside fun!
I can’t close without telling you about this major story of the first night.  We had tornado warnings in our county and all of those surrounding us.  We welcomed people amidst rolls of thunder.   About 2 hours in, we were told there were tornadoes spotted in a neighboring county.  We called the National Weather Service in our area, and they assured us we were still okay to keep partying!  The skies were certainly foreboding, and we had no idea how much the Lord was protecting us.  In every county north, south, east and west of ours, there were severe thunderstorms.  Some of us watched on the radar while a very severe storm with golf ball sized hail headed our direction, took a turn north and came back south again after it passed over our location… less than one mile away there were severe downpours and hail damage!  Yet we partied in sunshine through the entire event.  If that’s not God smiling on this big party of His, I don’t know what is.

Today’s Randomness

We’re still recovering here from our Luke 14 weekend (set up Wednesday evening through clean up Saturday at 11 pm), a day at Dollywood with my parents b/c they were in town and bought us our passes, then Jacob’s birthday the following day, then 2 days of “normal” every week stuff.  But today we’re home!!  Jacob hasn’t done anything formal for school since last Wednesday, but has spent hours building and rebuilding all of his birthday LEGO and Hero Factory sets.  Today for school we’re going to do piano practice, a Math lesson and read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory together today for as long as the kids want to.  I never read that book as a kid, and because I’m stubborn about seeing movies before reading books, have not seen either of the movies yet.  So I decided to read it with them today instead of giving it to Jacob to read alone.
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I will try and get some Luke 14 stories and photos up, though in the administration I “missed” a lot of the actual event this year.  Three years of that is enough!  Next year someone else is going to have to take that job so I can just be and drink in this huge thing into which I pour so much of myself.  
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On another special needs note, I’m so proud of one of my “students” at church, Gabe.  He’s my age, but is mentally retarded and has cerebral palsy.  He used to be hard to get to church because he didn’t want to leave his mamaw (his primary caregiver) though his parents are Christians.  Lately he’s been coming to church consistently with his dad, because his Mamaw passed away a few weeks ago.  Because Gabe was quite spoiled by Mamaw, we’re working hard on him sitting quietly during our lessons, listening to others while they speak and I’m throwing in there challenges to think about what others are saying even if it’s a boring Sunday School lesson.  :)
When I ask Gabe a question he usually says he doesn’t know or gives me a blank stare because his medicine makes him sleepy, but I’ve been working really hard to help him memorize some of the important spine truths of Scripture.  This month of course, Easter is a natural spine issue!  (We do one lesson for an entire month over and over, so between Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings they’ve heard it 8 times before we switch.)  So tonight when I asked Gabe all of our lesson questions (in a catechism sort of way) he answered EveRy oNe of them correctly!!!  I was so proud of him!  He knows Who died, why He did, and that Jesus is ALIVE today!  Most importantly, Gabe knows that he can spend forever with Jesus just because God loves him that much, and that Easter is the day we get to celebrate it all.  That is why I love what I get to do so much!
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And I know I’ve sent you to this blog before, 
but this post is one you have to read!  
It’s very touching in a totally non-Hallmark way.  
Inspirational, disturbing, convicting, etc.  This girl is my hero. 

Joni and Friends Camp 2010

Well, I had another fantastic year at camp!  This whole post is just 5 days worth of  my “moments of joy.”
This time was very different, as you know.  I was teaching in the children’s program, so I did not have one person as a buddy.  This made it different of course.  I spent a lot of time in leadership meetings and doing planning and decorating where I would have otherwise been out involved with a family.  So I kind of felt like I missed a lot.  But there were two plusses: 1) not having a buddy enabled me to take Jacob along so I could fix his food at each meal, and 2) I was able to sit wherever I chose at most meals, so I could visit with all the families from our church (there were about 40 people all together this year!) and build some relationships that I’d take home with me.  They already asked me if I’d do it again next year, and I have in mind to take Mattie as well, so I guess I’m “stuck” teaching.  :)  (I do love the actual teaching part.)  

Here are a whole bunch of random photos that will help you have the feel of camp.  But you know, you really ought to just be there with me!!  Just for some background, we were “traveling” in a hot air balloon around the world, with the theme being basically that God could do more than we ever can imagine in our lives.
This is our hilarious entertainment, JJ…J and Heinrich von Hindenburg, a balloonist in training and a professional balloonist now educating.  At this moment they are singing a song designed to teach us the parts of a hot air balloon (to the tune of head, shoulders, knees and toes), sung with a bad German accent:
Baaasket, burner, envelope, envelope.  
Baaasket, burner, envelope, envelope.
When you land you tie off with a rope,
Baaasket, burner, envelope, envelope!
(Now I’m not the only one with that song stuck in my head.)
Heinrich was also the guy who did children’s music and recreation, so we had more than a few good laughs through the weekend!
Here I am teaching something about China, though I haven’t a clue what it is!  (Isn’t that background beautiful?)
Jacob LOVED camp!  It was fun to see him come out of his shell in this environment.  I know some of you didn’t realize he had a shell, but he really does in large group settings, especially if he’s in a group where there is a lot of noise and chaos or where he doesn’t feel “safe” to make mistakes.

But here he had a great group of little boys to hang out with, and he did really well with it!

Here is the only five minutes Jacob and I spent just the two of us at camp.  :)

This little guy is Matthew.  Matthew goes to our church, and his mom is a great friend of mine, so I know him well.  I had to show you this pic so you can see the look of utter joy on his face at taking off during this dress-up relay!  Matthew has only had this power chair for several months now, but he is a pro at driving it and loves the independence it gives him!
Matthew’s mom is also great about letting him do whatever he wants to, while providing however little or much assistance he needs.  Of course, he chose 3:00 on a ninety-five degree afternoon to want to climb on the jungle gym!

This was one of my favorite moments of camp, and honestly, what it’s all about.
Matthew talks very slowly and is very difficult to understand.  Kids in large group setting often get restless when Matthew is trying to say something, but he is so involved, he often has things to share.  One of the things we did is gave rewards to kids who could tell us what the colors of their gospel bracelets meant (hoping they’ll tell a friend one day!) and we had most of them do this in front of the entire children’s group.  For a whole lot of reasons, Matthew’s turn kept getting pushed off, but I didn’t want him to be the only kid who didn’t get a turn.  (Matthew is very smart and knows he often gets pushed aside because of his speech.)  So while we were on the playground, I asked the kids I had to gather around Matthew and let him share his gospel bracelet colors.  Ethan was wearing his bracelet, so I asked if he would hold it out so Matthew could see it.  But not only did he hold it out, he waited patiently while he talked and gave him clues (not the answer!) when Matthew needed them so Matthew could share all of the answers all by himself.  His patience and tenderness was so sweet to watch.  
As an aside, Ethan is one of 34 children adopted by his family.  Yes, thirty-four.  He has more than 15 siblings with significant special needs (whose stories are nothing short of amazing), a mother and father who love them all individually and fiercely, and a tender heart because of what the Lord has done for him.  (And just because it’s cool to share, he has a sibling group of 6 boys on their way to their home from Liberia!  This will be the last adoption for this 61 year old dad and his wife.)
Though a really odd face, Jacob was very excited about his crazy hair!  
Jacob has a need for things to be “just so” and if he gets an idea in his head that does not come to pass, it can be a very long time, or never, before he forgets it.  He’s legitimately disappointed, not just being a baby.  So on crazy hair day, my color-loving child was very excited to get his done for the first time!  But one of the older boys did not listen to Jacob’s desires and sprayed black, blue and gold on his hair, and way too much of all of them!  It wasn’t at all what Jacob wanted, and he was very disappointed.  Because I know how hard it is for him to let things go, and how disappointed he was, I tried to find some red to spray his hair, but all of the spray was gone.  My mama’s heart was sad for him.  (I share a little bit of this personality trait, so I understand how disappointing it can be when something unexpected happens.)
So the next day we were set up to do an art project the next day, and someone had brought the colored hair spray with the face painting supplies so the kids could do art on themselves!  I was so relieved for him!  I made sure to spray his hair myself and listen very carefully to his color requests.  He was so happy at how it turned out.  And I was thankful God gave Him another opportunity to do it.
Here I am doing a “volcano or not” quiz on Hawaii day.
Thank you for praying for me.  The lessons I planned fit well with out theme, the kids seemed interested and responsive, and I apparently did a power point that was much more than expected.  Go figure!  But God did what He wanted to and taught me quite a bit through it.
Here’s our children’s group performing our song for the talent show.  They did a great job! and I was quite impressed, as Jacob did motions in public for the very first time ever.
I do not even know this young lady’s name, but she was the happiest of all the campers, I believe.  She loved every minute of any large group program we had, and she knew the words – every. one – to hymns I’d never even heard of! and sang them loudly.  She was a delight!
Jacob and I got to go on a tethered hot air balloon ride!  
It was a sweet memory to make with him.  :)
Of course he had to call Daddy right away to tell him all about it!
All in all, camp was fantastic. Again.  It is one of my favorite weeks of the year.  And I believe it is just a little bit of what heaven will be like.  The love and acceptance, I mean.  People are hurting, and life is hard.  But for just a few days camp is safe, it provides rest, and it offers much laughter.  Most importantly, we get to participate in the body of Christ worshiping with a purity unseen just about anywhere else.  You’ve just got to be there.

Last week: VBS! (Busy! cont’d)

Continued from previous post

Last week: VBS.  Enough said, right?

Okay, I’ll tell you about it…  This was another 5 days of being out of the house early all week.  I had four other kids that I took this year, two of whom I had to stop and collect, so I really needed to be on time each day (plus I had a job to do!).

I did not teach a Special Friends class this year.  We did it all as inclusion (which had its strengths and weaknesses) so I just coordinated the thirteen children who needed shadows.  Inclusion takes a lot of manpower!  At the last minute we had eight practicum students from a local college join us, so we had more than enough help.  They were great help (though not very experienced), plus there are now eight people who belong to eight different churches who have now seen the need for and blessing of disability ministry in the church!  I do have to say though, it ended up a bit of a bummer for me as I had to administrate instead of be a shadow myself.  I just like being hands on with these kids.  It is life-giving to me.  The last day I thought I was going to get to be a buddy and I had just told my good friend how glad I was that we had just the right number.  Well, I got to enjoy it for twenty minutes. One more helper arrived.  Bummer!!

Aside from the great helpers, we saw other areas in which we’ve grown this year: the children all over VBS were very accepting of our unique crowd!  We made lots of noise, had spit and slobber, spewing food tubes, stinky diapers on third graders, and spilled drinks.  But the kids just took us right in stride!  The best part?  So did the adults!  We were blessed to be included with a great teacher who did not only tolerate us, but loved us and included us.  God is doing big things…

Back to the schedule:
I know it sounds silly to remark up on being out of the house early, but this is not our strength!  I was so thankful the Lord blessed us with TEN days of being up, ready and out ON TIME!  The best part?  We were cheerful every day!!!  Not once did we have to rush out the door while nagging or arguing and rushing.  I have also really enjoyed being up early and while it will take a lot of work and discipline, I’d like to keep it this way.  I have worked really hard at maintaining bedtime for the summer, and so far we’re doing great.  (We totally lost ground last year and it took us until October to recover our bedtime schedule. I am bound and determined to stick with a routine this year!)  Today we were up and done with breakfast by 8:45, whereas we usually start around 9:00.  I know we will reap benefits if we can keep it up.

So that’s been our last three weeks!  Good times…

Luke 14 County Fair 2010!

I know I say this every year, but it was a huge success yet again!  It is clear how the Lord is working behind the scenes in ways we couldn’t even begin to know.  Here’s a small window into the night: 
The calm before the storm… 
The army of volunteers committing the evening to the Lord before the party begins!
A quick frame check for the take home photo spot.  This is my friend, Darlene, and I.  She and I do the disability ministry together at our church.  She tends to focus on Luke 14 while I focus more on the day to day ministry at church.  The Lord sticks us together to make a complete pair; I’m the left brain, she’s the right!
The hayride is always a favorite!
And you can’t have a County Fair without animals!
In my experience, most people with disabilities love to dance!  The nice part is that they’re uninhibited by the pride that overtakes people like me and keeps me from dancing.  In all honestly, their general lack of inhibition is a true gift.   What I could learn from that!
 This guy in the black shirt needs to just be an honorary member of this group of children and young adults with Down Syndrome, The Sonshine Ambassadors.  While they are sharing their little bit of sonshine with us, he goes up and joins them in the middle of their performance… and they just keep right on going as if he belongs.
They sing this song every year called, “I am a Child of God.”  I’ve seen it 3 or 4 times and I cry every time.  It’s amazing.

Mattie’s trying out the fishing before she gets carted off to childcare.  My kids sacrifice a lot of their mama’s attention and a lot of their own time while I’m in meetings in the months leading up to Luke 14.  I include them as much as I can and try and let them join in the fun for at least a few minutes each year!  It won’t be too long before they’ll be able to work a booth or be a buddy.  They both have tender hearts toward those with disabilities, and Luke 14 and our other involvement with disability ministry are the reasons for that.
The Chick Fil A cow came this year!  This picture is pretty remarkable, actually.  We had a guy dress up as Peter during VBS and Morgan (in the middle) totally flipped out.  I think I should be offended that she’ll pose with the cow and can’t be in the same room as “Peter.”  I guess she likes his costume better.  :)
I told you about Robert last year.  He walks in and asks for a “pretty buddy” to host him for the night.  :)  At this moment he was grabbing girls to take a picture with him.  My sister in law happened to step too close and got caught!
We take a photo of each guest with their buddy and get it printed for them to take home each night.  The fun part about this one is that the buddy (the guy on the right) is a Carson-Newman football player.  If I understand it right, the first time he came, he came under suggestion from his coach.  He wasn’t quite sure what to do, but ended up having a good time.  Three years later, he’s one of our most confident and fun buddies!
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I don’t have a photo of the sweetest story of the night, but I have to tell you.  
We collect things for a Country Store and let each guest go in and choose several things to take home.  We collect books, toys, accessories, tshirts, trinkets, etc.  
In the meantime, an older man had just moved in to a new group home.  He wasn’t wanting to get up and get out of bed to come to Luke 14 with his cohorts, and the staff couldn’t figure out why.  They finally got out of him that his shoes were hurting his feet.  He said he needed new shoes and couldn’t go to Luke 14 in shoes that hurt his feet.  They told him they’d work on new shoes for him the next day, but they encouraged him to get up and finally got him in the van, albeit begrudgingly from what I heard.  
He took his trip to the Country Store and ended up finding a pair of shoes.  Some local business man had donated some shoes that we honestly weren’t sure what to do with!  We decided to stick them in the store and see what happened. Now we know exactly why we had these.  They were the exact size for his hurting feet.  God knew just the size of those two needy feet that would shop in our Country Store, and He made sure we had just what we needed.

I love my Sunday School class

We had a neat “first” today in class.
This month we’re learning that God made us (and all men).  Our Bible verse for this month is the first part of Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”  First we talked about what “formed” and “womb” meant.  Then we personalized it and replaced YOU with each of the students names to help them see God knew them as well, not just some random “you.”  At this point I had my students, plus several visiting fifth graders.  I showed them what to do, then they said the verse with their names in it.
Before I formed Jessie in the womb, I knew Jessie.
Before I formed Jordan in the womb, I knew Jordan.
Before I formed Emily in the womb, I knew Emily.
Before I formed Chris in the womb, I knew Chris.
At first they looked at me funny, but by the end they were all smiling sheepishly as they said it with their name in it.  It was sweet to realize that they were letting that sink in a little.  I have to say, I think the fifth graders enjoyed it even more than my kids!  And I’ve enjoyed remembering it today too.

A Neat Sunday!

I’ve been praying about some ways to bring interaction between the typical and special needs kids at our church.  I had an idea recently that began today and it was a blessing to see it come to fruition!

We will have a small group of typical kids come from their Sunday School classes for the last 15 or 20 minutes of class.  They will come into our class and either play, do an activity of their choosing, or help us with something we’re doing.  Our goal is obviously, to develop relationships between the typical kids and those with special needs.  But it is also to give typical kids an opportunity to serve and discover their gifts.

Today 5 of our fifth graders came and it was wonderful!  They jumped right in and helped us with our life size coloring project.  They were cheerful, unafraid and willing to get close to the kids.  The neat part is that they had a lot more than 5 that wanted to come!  So they’re bringing another group next week.   We also have two typical little girls who want to come to my class every week (instead of their typical class!) so they can help!

The best way I know to explain it is that my heart was full of joy while I watched the kids interact.  I’ve been praying about this for so long, experiencing it today was a gift!

I’m on TV!

Remember last year after Joni and Friends camp when I told you about the film crew that followed me? (It was Labor Day weekend, 2008.) Well, they finished up the tv episode and I got a copy of it this week. It was so fun to watch!

I have to say I definitely want you to go watch it. Because it’s so hard to explain 5 days of fun, joy, excitement, exhaustion, victory, bonding, friendship…”little slice of heaven” in just a few paragraphs and now I have 28 minutes of live explanation! It’s just such a great picture of how worthwhile it is to go to a Family Retreat, for volunteers and people affected by disability!

So please go watch it and show your friends! If you are not affected by disability, there is definitely a way you can serve at a family retreat, no matter who you are. If you are affected by disability in some way, you can attend this life changing event! There are family retreats all over the country from June to September, so there should be one available that you can get to. Please consider it! It will change your life for the better, I guarantee it.

Here is a direct link to the episode if you’re interested!

(Here are my first and second posts with pics from the week this was filmed.)