The Faithfulness of God at Wonderfully Made Family Camp, 2018

When I was asked to share about my favorite memory from camp, I didn’t know where to start. There are just so many great memories!! My name is Beth Castile, and I am the special needs ministry leader at Valley Church. I have been on the WMFC planning team since 2015. One of my main roles is communicating and connecting with the volunteers.

I’m always amazed at God’s faithfulness in providing the variety of workers needed to make this event successful. We all come with different backgrounds, different stories, and different gifts. I love to see these gifts used to honor God and bless others. I feel honored to get to hear these stories as I serve with the volunteers. God has a plan for each of them, and we certainly have a purpose for each of them! I enjoy seeing how this puzzle comes together.

For example, one family reached out because they wanted to serve together. They had adopted a young girl from China. Perfect! I paired the mom and daughter with a camper who was also adopted from China. An instant bond was formed, minds were set at ease, and a relationship blossomed. The father and older daughter of this family served together in a different capacity, but the whole family really connected with this camper and her family. After camp ended, the volunteer family asked about connecting with their camper. That’s what I love–seeing God in the details to make a lasting impact and form those bonds.

Another volunteer that served for the first time in 2018. He had a camper that was more active and was worn out each day. But the volunteer loved it and was grateful to be with his camper. He thought about his campers’ parents; they have to be exhausted all the time! He was glad the parents got some rest and connected with each other. He now knows how valuable that time is for parents and now helps at Valley Church respite events. He even was a one on one buddy for a high school student on the church’s fall retreat.

Finally, I am blessed with children of my own who love to serve, especially at the Wonderfully Made Family Camp. To see their hearts grow for others and sharing the love of God so campers can have a full camp experience is priceless! Whether my kids are telling a puppet story, helping with a craft, carrying food trays, flying on the giant swing, paddling a boat, chasing campers across the grounds, or sitting together, they enjoy every moment. They know they are making a difference, and their enthusiasm is contagious. They are excited to encourage their friends to volunteer at camp, run the WM5K, or help at a respite event. Their excitement shines the love of Jesus on others. 

WMFC, 2018: Where God Was at the Center

Jennifer Schwartz is today’s guest blogger. She reflects back on what touched each member of her family of 5 at WMFC, 2018.
In April 2016 we went from a “normal” family to a “special needs family” when our son’s doctor said Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  He was 3 1/3-years-oldwhen he was diagnosed with this random genetic mutation, which doesn’t allow his muscles to repair themselves. Over time he will continue to lose muscular function.
The year after our son’s diagnosis we found out about  Wonderfully Made Family Camp (WMFC).  We didn’t know what to expect when we prepared for a few days at Hidden Acres.  To our surprise and enjoyment, we found a weekend tailor made for families facing any kind of special needs or disability challenge.  We knew our son would benefit, but we didn’t realize how much this was a positive experience for the whole family.
The planning members thought of everything.  We had a buddy assigned to our son who was prepared to handle his medical needs and listen to every instruction we shared, no matter how big or small.  Sometime we forget how much of their childhood siblings give up sitting at doctors appointments,  being caretaker. Both siblings (younger and older) had special times where they got to try new things  Our older daughter’s favorite is the climbing wall and zip line. Our younger son loved the nursery team. And we all loved pool time.
Parents got special attention too.  There was a pampering spa. My personal favorite was going on a trail ride with a friend who I have bonded with because of camp.  My husband was free to take a long run with another camp volunteer.  These are all things we don’t get to do often given our regular responsibility and caregiving hours.
Camp gave us time to meet other families without the need to explain our situation. They get it right away.  We have continued these relationships and the families have become part of our regular support network.  The faith focus of camp made it all the more special.  We had deeper conversations than can usually be bad. There were prayers for families and the struggles they face, and we worshipped as a group.  Reflection time as a family and individually was also nice.  This camp and all the volunteers who carved out time to make it unique and uplifting for the families that attend… are truly unique and a pure representation of servant leadership.
WMFC has been such a blessing to our family.  We enjoyed the relaxing weekend at a great facility and the opportunity to connect with other families in the special needs space with God at the center of discussions.

Puns, Cowboy Hats, S’mores, and More

Wonderfully Made Family Camp has been THE highlight of the summer for me the last three years.  As a board member my role varies from training volunteers to heading men’s group to being all around “go-fer” wherever I might be needed. In these various capacities I get to participate in pretty much every aspect of the weekend.

One particular memory was of a rambunctious 4 year old in a wheelchair.  This delightful guy was pure charisma. While a group congregated at the fire pit making s’mores, he wheeled around everyone with great finesse, having a blast, as were those watching him.  Not having any clue of my love for “punny” comebacks in any situation, he steered up to me, looked me straight in the eyes as I stooped down to be at his level. Slowly, ever so methodically and with absolute authority, he stated “I didn’t come here to listen to your lousy jokes!”  This kid obviously has the gift of prophecy.

Shortly thereafter,  a teen volunteer I know well gave this same dynamic youngster his beloved cowboy hat which he had coveted all evening. This act of Christian love brought tears to my eyes as I watched the extreme pleasure it brought to the giver and to the receiver as well as to his parents who watched the entire transaction transpire.  This is one of many reasons I so greatly enjoy participating in WMFC.

~ Kim Combes, WMFC planning board member and expert punster

A Favorite Spa Memory from WMFC, 2018

I had the honor to serve as the coordinator for the Massage and Spa at the Wonderfully Made Family Camp.  Having a background of camping, teaching/serving those with special needs, and also being a licensed massage therapist, I believe God especially equipped me for this position.

While the Massage and Spa are designed primarily for the adults, parents often bring their children in for a little “rejuvenation” time as well.  It is heartwarming to see kids and parents painting their nails together or washing each other’s feet and applying lotion!  Once we had a mother/daughter schedule massages together.  This year we had a mom, dad, and youth with special needs schedule massage time together.  While we are all in one room and everyone remains clothed, there are screens set up for privacy.  As we three therapists began working out the knotted shoulders and tired feet, we were privileged to be a part of a lovely family.  Mom and dad blissfully zoned out, but daughter chatted with her therapist, telling her about their adventures at camp.  At one point she asked her mother about something in the story, but the therapist, not wanting to disturb mom’s moment of peace, replied, “She’s sleeping.”  The daughter then called out to her father to engage him in conversation.  “He’s sleeping, too,” I replied.  The daughter then went on with her story to the therapist.  I couldn’t hear just what the story was about, but the daughter’s voice told the kind of wonderful family of which she was a part.  

The love among this family could be felt deep in our hearts and afterwards we all agreed it had been a blessing for us to be with them.  We had come to serve and encourage such families, yet afterwards we therapists were the ones that had been renewed.  It is truly an honor to serve the families that come to this camp.

~Erin Hefner, WMFC planning board member and keeper of a dad’s moment of peace

A Dad’s Memories of Grace and Laughter at WMFC, 2018

Russ Gibson, who wrote this post, was a great sport when the comedian and ventriloquist picked him to be part of the act.

“I can’t believe you forgot her shoes!”

These were the words I heard when my wife realized I forgot our youngest daughter’s shoes while packing for camp. As 18 month-olds don’t always wear shoes, I simply whisked her away – shoeless – into the van upon our departure from home. Looking back, I can’t believe I forgot them either, and I don’t blame my wife at all for not believing I forget them!

In my defense–okay, at least in order to make myself feel better–let me give you some context. My wife and I were packing for 7 of us. Our children’s ages are 13, 10, 8, 4, and 18 months.

Pillows? Check.
Sleeping bags? Check.
Clothes, shoes, swim gear, snacks, toiletries…check, check, check.

I thought I had everything, especially because I’m a checklist kind of guy. Especially since this year was our second year at Wonderfully Made Family Camp, I thought I was a pro at packing for this event. It turns out I’m actually not perfect at packing.

Even though I’m not a pro, I’m thankful that the staff and volunteers are pros at being the hands and feet of Christ. Our experience this year at camp was as stellar as the prior year, even better, in fact. Everyone involved seem to have covered every detail, from programming to accomodations to food.

Being in community with other families like us who experience life with special needs children is among the largest blessings that we have received. Knowing that you are not alone in the midst of your own “valleys” is a great comfort. Just hanging out with other dads and moms and not feeling awkward about your child’s intricacies is strengthening to me as a parent. This is a community of encouragement and love.  

One of the most enjoyable moments at camp was date night. Us parents got to spend a few hours enjoying appetizers and dinner, as well as socializing with each other. The kids were wonderfully taken care of during that time. For our entertainment, there was a talented comedian who was able to get us laughing hysterically! This was such a great opportunity to let our guard down, and to momentarily forget our everyday tasks. It was a time to live in in the moment and enjoy the present.

Looking back, maybe it wasn’t so bad that I forgot my little one’s shoes. It was a reminder to me that despite my best efforts, I can’t plan for everything, fix it all, or be the best. God’s grace takes care of me despite my shortcomings, and I am reminded to rely on his love and power through it all. WMFC was a tangible experience of this grace, and for that, I am thankful.

~Russ Gibson, devoted husband, father of 5, and good sport

Wonderfully Made Family Camp, 2018: A Look Back

This shot of parents goofing around in the photo booth set up for Saturday evening’s Adult Night Out says so much. To see these caregivers able to shed their duties for an evening of laughter and fellowship shows that WMFC is for the entire family, not only for the kids with special needs.

Wonderfully Made Family Camp 2018 was a 68 hour whirlwind that impacted families and volunteers alike. Mere words can’t communicate how the days spent together impacted 40 families comprised of 200 family members and the 100+ volunteers who served unselfishly. So instead of trying to tell you in my own words, I’m using words spoken and pictures taken by others who attended the third annual camp held at Hidden Acres Christian Center in central Iowa.

We had the privilege of going to Family Camp this year and it was such a blessing. Catching up with old friends, making new ones, and the time we all spent together was so wonderful! All the buddies, staff, parents, kids, and folks that put this on made this a memory our family will never forget! ~ from a parent

Click this link to read the rest of this post and see more amazing pictures at the Different Dream website.