Friday, August 28, 2009

With a little help from my friends

At Joni and Friends Family Retreat, activities are planned by age and interest, not by ability. Each camper with a disability has a partner during the week who helps him or her be involved.

These STMs (Short Term Missionaries) are a crucial part of Joni Camp. Watch this STM throwing herself into a relay race with her young friend.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sweet friends

At Joni and Friends Family Retreat, I was blessed watching one of our young friends with his PCA (personal care attendant). They enjoy each other so much, the pleasure rubs off on anyone close by.

Who is blessing whom?

Monday, August 24, 2009


I think serendipity is my favorite word, both for its sound and its meaning.

Serendipity -- "an instance of making a desirable discovery by accident."

I love it even better when it happens, like this morning. Johnny and I headed out the door for a 1/2-hour power walk. Which way shall we go? . . . Doesn't matter. . . . Let's go south; we haven't gone that way for a while.

After 15 minutes walking through our neighborhood, we started homeward. Turning a corner, we caught sight of a porch being rebuilt by Piper Construction. That's the business of our son Benjamin, and there he was with his co-worker Phil.

So our day started with a few moments with one of our boys and getting to see some of his handiwork--a sweet "accident."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

To Cheryl (and other parents of a child with disabilities)

Dear Cheryl,

You commented on the post about "Elda":

It was the very encouragement I desperately prayed for. We have a son with Autism and I have struggled so much in past two weeks with him. Thank you for helping me remember that God is God alone, Unchangeable, Unstoppable. God knows my son and He is at work in my son's life for His glory. What a beautiful thing that retreat must be!

Yes, Cheryl. This retreat is indeed an awesome thing--for us who are volunteers and even more for the families who attend. Our eyes are opened or re-opened toward our God who is unchangeable and unstoppable.

I don't know where you live, but there are JAF retreats scattered around the country. Generally, the dates are similar from year to year. The dates and places for 2010 should be posted sometime about the beginning of each year. Most fill up fast, so it's important to register early.

And if you're not familiar with the
Joni and Friends web site, be sure to look around in the other parts it. There are many kinds of helpful resources and encouragement there.

I pray God's blessing on you today.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Would you choose for me to heal your son?

A few days ago I tweeted a quote I heard at Joni camp: "
Autistic boy's mom re grace: When I scraped my son's feces off the wall, God said, "Your sin was more repulsive and I cleaned you."

The number of responses has been overwhelming. She provoked so much emotion and thought in me that it's hard to stick to just one or two quotes. So I wanted to give you a chance to hear all that Lanae had to say.

She spoke from the context of disability. But I heard a broader truth that applies to quite different challenges in my own life.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

He is God alone

The worship team at Joni and Friends Family Retreat gets better every year. This year, there were several reminders of how much God was blessing us through them.

First of all, they drew us into worshipping God through their choices of music, the quality of their voices and playing, and their own worship as they sang and played.

Then, a 2nd-time volunteer said that during last year's camp, she was so moved by the music that she began for the first time to listen to contemporary worship songs at home.

Third, the musicians welcomed "Dara" to express her pleasure in their instruments while they were playing.

And then during the last time together before going home, we saw again their open hearts toward one of the campers, let's call him "Elda."

"Elda" is a gentle boy who doesn't speak and hardly responds when spoken to. Autism is a mysterious thing. God alone knows what is going on inside "Elda." And I mean that literally--God does know, and he gave us a peek.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What Zach does at camp

I've known Zach for several years. He has cerebral palsy but that is not who he IS. He spends most of each day in a wheelchair, but it is not part of his body.

Often when I'm at Zach's house, he's not there because he's gone swimming or is at the gym with his dad.

Just take a look at some of what Zach did at Joni and Friends Camp the last couple of years, and don't miss his unique basketball style.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Thanksgiving for Talitha

(More pictures of camp are posted now.)

After last summer's experience volunteering at Joni and Friends Family Retreat, Talitha couldn't wait to do it again this year. As soon as the registration info was available, we made sure they knew we were coming.

As it turns out, the timing of this commitment meant Talitha missed a day-long event with her church friends and she couldn't go to Rock the River in the Twin Cities yesterday. Both were things she really, really wanted to do.

But after the initial realization and disappointment, she turned back to the original plans God had laid on her heart.

It is a sweet thing to her mother's heart seeing her working so cheerfully and independently--and having a good time at the same time.

I'm blessed to be here to watch, and there are dozens of other parents who would also be thanking God if they could observe their young people in action here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Joni's here

There are 22 Joni and Friends Family Retreats around the country this year, mostly in the summer. It is impossible for Joni Eareckson Tada to attend all of them, so we are privileged that God has given her strength and health to be with us this week.

She seems to thrive on connections
with others whose life is shaped with disability.

She lavishes her gifts of encouragement and empathy.
And always, her message is that God is sovereign, he is good, and he is faithful.

During a hymn sing with Joni, there is
always a time for the children to join her.

We are thrilled that Joni is here. But I can just hear her saying, "It's not important that I'M here. It's important that GOD is here."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Loving people more than appearances

(Photos from yesterday are posted now.)

Sometimes just a few moments can capture the spirit and heart of a whole event. It happened tonight.

There is a little girl--let's call her Dara--here at the Minnesota Joni and Friends Family Retreat. Dara doesn't speak and often is biting or chewing on something. She is captivated by music, so much so that her parents bring musical toys and even a keyboard to fill her time happily.

Tonight there was a hymn sing. Dara's family sat on the front row. Dara stood next to the stage the whole time. She expressed her excitement and pleasure with shrieks that would have sounded like distress or sudden, extreme pain if you didn't know better.

After the closing prayer, the worship band played as people stood and moved toward the door. Through tears I filmed what happened.

I thank God for Tom and Wendy and their loving Dara more than they love ending the evening on a perfect musical note.

A taste of heaven?

"You may never know how much these days mean to a family whose life is always shaped and stressed by disability." This is a message we volunteers have heard in various forms since the time God led us to be here.

I suppose it shouldn't surprise us that the blessing goes both ways--not just from us, but also to us.

This evening we debriefed at the end of our long, hot, happy afternoon greeting the campers. One volunteers said, "I wonder if that's what heaven will be like, angels gathered and cheering as we arrive."

We pray that these days will be a taste of heaven for the campers (and us). May we remember that every bit of rest, of peace, of burden lifted is a foretaste of the everlasting rest, peace, and rolling away of burden.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thanking God for our kids

Last night between midnight and 2 am, I was wakened and kept awake by the behavior of some teenagers. I felt an odd relief to realize that they were not connected with our Joni and Friends Retreat.

By contrast, here's what I saw this morning--our young people gathered around the Word and praying together to begin the day.
To add to my gratitude to God, this was organized by one of the young men and the daily meeting is 45 minutes before breakfast, prime sleep-late time.

Our volunteer training time ends soon and pictures are posted. This afternoon the campers arrive.

Yesterday I asked you to pray for nervous volunteers. Today please remember the first-time families who probably are even more apprehensive about coming into a new situation.

And pray for all the families. If you've ever traveled with small children, multiply the paraphernalia and noise and unpredictability and otherwise general stress level by about 1000 for many parents traveling with one or more children with disabilities.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Behold, I am doing a new thing . . . "

For the next few days I'm blogging and tweeting from the 2009 Joni and Friends Family Retreat in Minnesota.

Right now, volunteers are gathering for orientation and training to be ready to be a help and blessing to the campers who will arrive tomorrow afternoon, families and individuals affected by disabilities.

We will be a total of 310 people, about equally divided between campers and volunteers.

Please pray today for the new volunteers who may feel nervous in this new sort of setting for them. Pray that God will use these hours of training to remind us of his power and goodness and good plans for his people.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, 1921-2009

Eunice Kennedy Shriver died today.

Life for a person with developmental disability has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. Eunice Shriver was a key player in that change, spurred by her love for her older sister Rosemary.

According to USA Today:

Rosemary, born with mental retardation made worse by a surgical lobotomy, spent most of her adult life at a private institution in Wisconsin and died in 2005. Shriver devoted much of her energies to countering the social stigma once attached to mental disabilities.

"If I (had) never met Rosemary, never known anything about handicapped children, how would I have ever found out? Because nobody accepted them anyplace," she told National Public Radio in 2007.

In 1956, she became executive vice president of the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation, which helped fund Catholic organizations and those that benefited the mentally retarded. In 1962, she opened her Maryland estate to a summer camp for mentally retarded children.

In July 1968, just weeks after Robert Kennedy was killed, about 1,000 people from 26 U.S. states and Canada participated in the first Special Olympics at Soldier Field in Chicago. Shriver persuaded Chicago officials to join with the Kennedy Foundation to sponsor it.

Today, the organization says it serves almost 3 million children in 180 countries.

Unlike other members of her Democratic clan, she remained opposed to legalized abortion and was a longtime supporter of the group Feminists for Life.

[ read the rest ]

Friday, August 7, 2009

He does all things well . . . . I keep telling myself

"How do you measure the worth of 34+ years of friendship and 23 years of living 3 houses apart?

23 years of:
  • impromptu meals together
  • countless borrowed onions, eggs, and cups of sugar
  • walks together
  • encouraging each others' children (and admonishing if needed)
  • shared birthday celebrations
  • carpooling our kids to school
  • loving and attending the same church and ministering together there
  • praying through our tears for each others' children
Today, our friendship with David and Karin Livingston is stronger and deeper than ever. But the "3 houses down" has ended. They moved yesterday to be nearer Bethlehem's South Site, where David's primary responsibilities are.

I know they're not gone-gone. I know we'll develop new patterns of seeing each other. And yes, our cell phones work just as well as they ever have. I know this is a good thing that the Lord has planned for us all and for Bethlehem.

But today, I'm good for nothing and crying at the drop of a borrowed onion.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Four matching picture frames hang in a straight vertical line on a narrow space on my living room wall.

That's my rotating exhibit of 8 x 10s from my most recent travels or special family event.

Right now the photos are keeping China in my mind. I couldn't choose just 4 from all my photos, so these are Chinese sights. Later will come Chinese people and Chinese places.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"What can Brown do for you?"

At lunch time today, Talitha and I were in line at Subway 3 blocks from home, ordering sandwiches, when someone tapped me on the shoulder, "Is that package ready?"

Out of nowhere, our smiling UPS lady had appeared, asked about the package I'd mentioned to her at my backdoor yesterday, and just as quickly disappeared.

We still don't know where she came from or where she went--Superwoman?

Anyway, she's watching out for us. Makes this inner-city neighborhood feel like a small town.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Thanks for vacation

Vacation took us to Georgia, South Carolina, southern Minnesota and northern Minnesota.

We had reunions with Johnny's family and with my extended family and with friends. One of those weeks, Barnabas and family were with us.

For most of a week, we were the substitute shopkeepers at Jumble Thrift Shop in Fulda, MN.

And then came some quiet days of sleeping when we wanted and reading when we wanted. Each day we three walked hard together for 1/2 hour and then Talitha and I would cool off in the water. One weekend Ben and his family joined us.

I am so aware that it is a privilege to have such weeks. Every good and perfect gift is from our father of heavenly lights. I'm pretty sure that some year his good and perfect gifts to us will not be so obviously sweet and pleasurable.

I pray I will receive those times with as much gratitude as I feel now for this summer.