I Didn’t Know

I didn’t know that I would hear “I feel normal” so much in one place from so many different people. Yet, I heard it over and over again at Family Retreat. In our culture everyone is wanting to be normal. What is normal to you is definitely not normal to me. Then out of the blue while at Family Retreat I heard myself say “I feel normal here” in a conversation.

Why did I feel so normal there? What was it that I experienced that made those two weeks seem normal? I’ve been trying to process through these questions and more since my return home. I know one answer is that I was surrounded by families that experienced the same things my family has experienced. We were all bonded by the fact that some one in our family is affected by a disability. This is “normal” to us. I saw the tension in so many of the siblings and parents eyes that I have lived with for many years; that tension of how do I experience things my sibling or child really is not able to experience as fully as I am able to and still be okay with that? As the weeks flew by I also saw that living in that tension is our normal. I have found that living in that tension there can still be joy. A joy to move beyond what I see as normal and know that God understands where I am at.

Here are a couple highlights of both weeks:

I will never forget the dad who watched his daughter who has a severe case of Cerebral Palsy be hoisted on top of a horse and be led on a ride around a field. I saw him a bit later on in the day and he was still beaming from ear to ear showing his wife the photos he took of their daughter riding a horse for the first time. This young lady’s mom was able to see her ride again the following day! There was so much joy in that family!

At the first week’s Ho Down I had the pleasure of dancing with Jesse. Jesse has Cerebral Palsy and is wheelchair bound. Thanks to his buddy, Ryan, Jesse and I got to square dance! The smile on Jesse’s face during our dance was priceless.

Even though there are many more questions to process and the tears are still on the brink of spilling over, I know that God started a work in my heart and it will continue for a life time.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

Family Retreat

The last two weeks I have been in Flat Rock, NC at the Bonclarken Conference Center for the Joni and Friends Charlotte Family Retreat. Each week is filled with at least 40 families and over 130 short term missionaries (volunteers). No matter how much planning and preparation took place before hand I did not realize how much Family Retreat would impact me. Last night at church I tried to write out all that I could about how the retreats did impact me. The words I came up with don’t seem quite adequate enough.

So I thought I would share a few pictures with stories to go along with them.

Me and Justin Howard

Me and Justin Howard

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Michael and Justin

Justin Howard and his family come every year to the first week of Family Retreat. Justin and his dad, Dr. Howard, have run a marathon and a couple half marathons together. When Dr. Howard found out that I’m a runner he said, “You will be running with Justin soon!”. Dr. Howard has injured himself and is not able to run for a few months. I gladly accepted that challenge and look forward to the day Justin and I can run a race together. I really enjoyed getting to know the Howard family.

The picture of Justin with Michael is one of my favorites from the first week. Michael has been Justin’s buddy two years in a row and they have a blast together! Michael taught Justin how to make a bird and a bear sound during their time at retreat this year. In the picture above they were making the bird sound for me.

Karaoke and Game night (Last night of the first week)

Karaoke and Game night (Last night of the first week).

Talent show... Preston H. was showcasing his basketball skills!

Talent show… Preston H. was showcasing his basketball skills!

 

Hanging out with friends on the last night of retreat.

Hanging out with friends on the last night of retreat.

Thursday nights are reserved for the Talent Show and Karaoke/Game time after the show. Each Talent show is filled with the many families showcasing their own special talent. A couple of young kids in wheel chairs showcased their basketball skills on stage. We had several sing songs and some others share poetry.

Jenifer and Annie at the Ho Down.

Jenifer and Annie at the Ho Down.

 

Chris, his buddy Kyle, and his caregiver, Roxanne doing the Hokey Pokey at the Ho Down.

Kyle, Chris and Chris’ caregiver, Roxanne doing the Hokey Pokey at the Ho Down.

Each Tuesday evening we had a Ho Down. We had a “caller” each week calling dances for everyone. We had the Hokey Pokey, lots of square dances, and even the Chicken Dance! If I was not taking pictures, I was dancing. I loved both of those nights.

One of the biggest things for me at Family Retreat is all the new family that I adopted or they adopted me! 🙂

The Crosby Family (Texas) and the Vonesh Family (Florida).

The Crosby Family (Texas) and the Vonesh Family (Florida).

I met many incredible families that not only love the Lord but have a huge heart for those with disabilities and serve those that came to Retreat. The Crosby family and the Vonesh Family are two families that have huge hearts to serve those affected by disabilities.

I truly loved every exhausting moment of Family Retreat. I’m doing my best to rest today and get prepared to go back into the office.

If you are reading this and went to Retreat, I would love to hear what your favorite moment(s) was during the week you were there.

Faith and Running

Last night a friend of mine sent me a devotional that related how the Christian faith is much like running an endurance race. When I first started running I knew there was something more for me than “just running”. I was learning, growing and experiencing this new found love of running in a much different way than I had expected. I see how my walk with the Lord (my faith in Jesus) is like running a race. When I am in training mode, I have days where I just want to give up. In my walk with the Lord, there are days I want to throw in the towel and ask “is this really worth it”? It is worth it! 

Every single moment is worth it. Let that sink in.

The hard days are what make getting to the finish line that much sweeter. I know once I cross that finish line that I did not give up, I did not quit. I press on and see each new goal as a way to accomplish something great. I run hills that seem to go on forever and with each footstep I sometimes feel that cement has been poured into my shoes but once I reach the top, I rejoice at pushing through that difficult climb. Then comes the down hill portion, that wonderful time of recovery. I’m happier at that point in the run. But I know another hill comes up shortly and the routine continues. And just like that I am reminded of the problems I face. The hills I must climb each day, spiritually speaking, can be short and less painful or they can be long and arduous reminding me that I am not yet at the top. I haven’t finished the run.

I need to press on.  

I am then reminded of Philippians 3:12-14

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” NIV (Via Biblegateway.com) 

My faith and running go hand in hand. I understand my faith in a deeper way than I had before I started running. I am truly thankful. I love what the writer, Paul, says in Philippians. I haven’t arrived yet, but I press on. I continue to train (read my Bible, pray, serve and love others) daily with my faith just like I do with my running (running the hills, long mileage and sprints) to one day reach the final goal. 

What inspires you to deepen your faith?

“I love you” necklaces

Recently my friend Tamara put on Facebook that she and her mother, Judy, would be making necklaces to raise money for Tamara’s missions trip to Haiti this fall. The pendant is clay with the hand sign for “I love you” engraved on the front. I told Tamara that I wanted at least one if not more to share with others. 🙂 The reason for the hand sign “I love you” is because Tamara is deaf and will be working with children who are deaf as well.

Last week I purchased three and will be purchasing some more for family and friends! Below is a picture of the necklace on me, on the beach and on my shadow at the beach.

At the beach I decided to get a little creative in taking pictures with the necklace on me and on the sand.

At the beach I decided to get a little creative in taking pictures with the necklace on me and on the sand.

If you are interested in purchasing one of these necklaces let me know. You can email me at: rebeccabernier(at)gmail(dot)com.

PS. They are $10.00 each!

Glass Child

When I first heard the term “glass” child at work I was a bit confused. During a conversation at work with my boss and a co-worker they both looked at me and at the same time said, “you are a typical glass child”.

What does that mean and why did they say that to me? I found out that a “glass” child is someone who grows up with either a sibling or a parent with a disability. I grew up with a brother who has Cerebral Palsy and a best friend who is deaf. When I was around them people did not see me, they looked through me to my brother and best friend and what their disabilities were. I was like glass to others around us. I have never seen this as a negative thing but for many “glass” children I can see how this would be a negative and a hard thing to over come.

I believe “glass” children are fiercely independent and fiercely loyal. I can remember people picking on my brother and my best friend and coming to their defense often. I also learned how to do many things at a young age to help out my parents because they were very busy with taking care of my brother. This was my normal and to some extent still is my normal.

Working at Joni and Friends has really helped me in so many ways. I have told friends recently that working here has brought healing to my heart in just the short amount of time. Everyday the Lord reminds me, it’s okay. My life has never been “normal”. I have said for years that the Lord made me independent so that my parents would not have to worry about me as much as they had to worry about my brother.

Here I am, now working for an organization that affords me the privilege to not only be there for those affected by disability but to reach out to other “glass” children (who are adults now) and let them know it’s okay, you are not alone.

Even though I am a typical “glass” child, I see how God has used that over the years to help me get through struggles I might not have walked through as easily if it were not for my fierce independency and loyalty.

Do you have some one in your life that has a disability? How do you view yourself or your family? Have you heard the term “glass child” before reading this post?

 

Amazing Grace

Sunday morning at 5:30am I was wide awake and not happy about it. But the disappointment and discouragement I was feeling was enough to wake me so very early in the morning.

Later on in the morning I sat in church alone and wrote this:

I woke up this morning with a great sense of discouragement and an overwhelming sense of disappointment. I tried to control the emotions that were bubbling up and over in the form of tears. I truly hate feeling this way. It is tiresome and quite unsettling. I wrestled my thoughts and feelings for what seemed like an hour until I heard a quite whisper reminding me it’s okay. I will be okay…there was a sense of peace and a flood of grace filled my heart. Grace like I had never felt before. God was there, right in the midst of my tears and wrestling. 

Five minutes after writing that there was a video that was shown about human trafficking. I lost it. If anyone saw me sitting on the back row, sobbing, you now know why. My discouragement and disappointment felt so tiny compared to what I was seeing on the screen.

It doesn’t matter what the discouragement or disappointment were about, what matters is that God in His sovereignty knew I need to cry and let go of the feelings I had been wrestling with earlier. He just happen to choose a short video on human trafficking to get to me where I wasn’t thinking about myself but I was thinking about others and praying for them. I felt it was fitting that the song the church sang right after the video was “Amazing Grace”.

Amazing Grace indeed. God was there. He always is. 

Psalm 139

20 Years…

Twenty years ago today my life and the lives of many of my friends changed forever. I am not able to describe what others were feeling or went through but I can share what I was feeling and what I went through. I’ve tried time and again to write out what happened but have felt that my words would not be adequate enough. I still don’t know if they are adequate but I needed to write this.

April 8, 1993 started out like any other day. I was on Spring break so I am sure I slept in and then just bummed around the house. (Some memories of this time are a bit fuzzy.) It was fairly early in the morning when my sister answered a phone call from one of her friends letting her know that one of my friends, Shantel, had passed away. When she told me, I blew her off and said that’s not true. I thought that her friends were playing a joke and didn’t know what they were talking about. I had no idea it was not a joke until much later in the day.

My parents both got home from work when my dad received a phone call from one of the pastors on staff at our church. Shantel had indeed passed away earlier in the day and Jennifer her best friend was there when it happened. I kept thinking over and over that this can not be true. We just saw each other the night before at youth group. My dad ended the phone call and both my parents told me about the events of the day. I’m sure I cried and hugged them (I honestly can not remember) and then I went into the bathroom where I stayed for as long as possible alone, in shock. Some of our friends were in NY on a missions trip. Did they know? How are they handeling this? I would find out later that they were called and did know and were just as upset and in shock as I was.

My memories of the funeral and grave side service are very few and far between. I know that Michael W Smith’s song “Friends” was played and it took me years to listen to it without crying. My youth pastor, Daryl, spoke and I sat there numb. There are some days it seems like it happened yesterday and then other days it feels like a life time ago. I never thought my sophomore year in high school would be marked with tragedy. I am sure no one ever thinks that.

Life has moved on for everyone that was affected by the loss of Shantel. This year I needed to take some time and do my best to remember. To remember that Shantel’s life may have been cut short but I know without a doubt she loved the Lord and one day, we will all see her again.

If you knew Shantel I would love for you to share your memories about that time or any other time that you got to share with her.