What did you do this summer? My family attended one of the Joni and Friends family camps. We didn’t just have a good time there. We experienced the grace of God.
(No, this is not an advertisement. I’m going to take some time describing the camp; but there are some general points that apply to all of us even if we never go to a family camp.)
You may have sent your child with disabilities to camp or gone as a family to family camp or retreat. I would not blame you if you have gotten discouraged. Everyone involved tries hard to make it work, and the experience may be quite good. But many of the camp experiences were not designed for us. We took a longer time getting ready for anything. Some activities would be over before we ever got there. Other activities which were beyond our skill level and became frustrating. Other families had things in common which we didn’t share. There were great opportunities to show love, to show patience and understanding, and to work towards building better relationships with our brothers and sisters; but it also was a lot of work.
Joni and Friends is a Christian ministry to people with disabilities and their families. Its family camp program is intentionally designed to address these things that can make camps frustrating for those with disabilities. Activities were planned with my son in mind. Every camper with a disability had a short term missionary volunteer on hand to be his or her personal support helper. Things went slowly enough that my son could get used to them and understand what was happening; and the expectations were much more realistic. When my son didn’t manage something, the leaders immediately substituted an activity which did work.
On the other hand, the fun parts of camp were not lost. For instance, like just about every other camp, there was a talent show. However, this talent show was miraculously appreciative of what seemed like surprisingly small talents. The audience was genuinely enthusiastic about songs sung by people who couldn’t carry a tune or remember the words. They were rolling in the aisles in response to stand-up comedy by people who were unintelligible half of the time. When my son, who loves scribbling circles on paper, unveiled a large canvas covered with his scribbles, the audience people loved it. My son was thrilled to see people admire something he had done.
The Joni and Friends camp was a great example for my family, but the principle doesn’t apply only to summer camps.
God’s grace can work in amazing ways when a community gives that sort of extra support to people with a disability.
Our family is not a typical family, and it feels good when we stop trying to act like a typical family. This reflects Paul’s words in I Cor. 12: 23: “The parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.” We can show honor to those with disabilities–and everyone will benefit!