Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Elisha Foundation Retreat 2008 (5)

I have had this insatiable urge to write a long post about my days here so far at the retreat. What holds me back is a desire to respect these families and not make their lives the subject of my own lame observations.
So, as much as I would love to tell you all about each family and the needs they struggle with day by day, I feel compelled to speak in generalities only.

The preaching
It is something to stand before folks with terminally ill or relentlessly disabled children and open up the Word to them. I suppose it is not much different than what I do week by week, other than the fact that the presenting needs are so concentrated. Many of the questions these folks face are identical to questions we have faced over the years, and those questions float dangerously close to the edge of questioning, as opposed to inquiry. Still, I believe the Bible is the only thing that makes sense out of those questions, even directing us to ask the right questions! So, it is a humbling, yet joyful exercise to think theologically about life in this way.
My teaching has all been from John’s gospel. We began with the prologue, that establishes Jesus is the most important Person in the world. We moved on to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 – you need God to work on you to make you believe. Then we saw how Jesus is breaks down barriers to call folks to Himself in John 4. This morning we considered his healing of a paralyzed man from John 5, and how Jesus called this man to believe on Him, but though he could now walk, the man had a paralyzed faith. Tonight we looked at John 6 in order to see the abundance of Jesus’ provision. Then we will end tomorrow morning with a look at what distinguishes true from false belief.
My underlying thought in this has been that what these parents need more than health or money or a good marriage or a new I.E.P. or more retreats is Jesus. That can be hard to see when your child has needs that mean she will never talk or follow you with her eyes or toilet himself or live past 15 years old or understand more than a 3 year old.
We tend to think that our children’s issues are greater than our own soul – but it is yet another deceitful trick of our enemy. The fact is, the best think any parent can do for their disabled child is to turn to Christ, then point that child to Christ. It is an action with eternal consequence.

The Worship
Brad Hilton is here again this year leading our singing and corporate prayer. I love Brad. He is one of those guys that fights hard to remain genuine. Authenticity can be a very difficult thing to maintain when you are standing in front of people – especially when those people have big needs. You are tempted to minimize their needs or ignore them out of fear, and Brad won’t do that. He keeps pressing us to consider what we sing about and to use our words as a launching pad to Christ.
Brad is also gentle. He brings a basket of instruments for the kids to play while we sing and helps them to share and play well. If it were me at the mic, I think the whole experience would be much less pleasant! Brad is the right mix of pleasant and direct and he is a gift to these retreats.

The Families
It is interesting to watch friendships develop. We saw the same thing last year as families look at one another and realize they have much in common. It takes the first 24 hours or so to get over the hump, but it was great to watch parents yapping it up around the pond this afternoon.

The Dinner
Last night was the candlelight dinner for parents only. Justin asked if I would be the waiter for the night and I gladly accepted. It was great fun to serve these folks and to get to know the kitchen staff of the ranch. Chef Stephen makes a mean prime rib and salmon, at least it looked great – I had already eaten hamburgers with the kids and other volunteers!

The Volunteers
Over 25 of them come this weekend to serve. It is a labourious time. Besides attending to the kids all day, the volunteers stay up late every night to de-brief with Justin and to figure out ways to make the next day better. They are an eclectic group from surrounding churches and far away states. Justin’s mom organizes, teaches and runs the program for the kids that goes on while I am preaching. Everyone comes to work hard and they do… they are the backbone of the retreat.

I think I will have more to write in the future, but so many of you are praying for this weekend I wanted to give you something to fuel your prayers. And here it is already after midnight on the east coast! I will close off here for that reason. Thank you for praying – please don’t stop.