Earlier this summer, guest blogger Amy Stout and her family attended a special needs family camp at Hidden Acres Christian Center in central Iowa. The event had a Different Dream connection because Jolene was on the Wonderfully Made Family Camp (WMFC) special needs family camp planning board. When Jolene asked Amy if she’d do a guest post about her family’s experience to share with Different Dream readers, Amy said yes without hesitation. Here’s what she says was her favorite part of the camp. You might want to have a tissue handy while you read.
Special Needs Family Camp:
A Princess, a Promise, and a Prayer
I could tell you that my favorite part of Wonderfully Made Family Camp was the amazing lodging with a queen bed and 5 pillows–it was so luxurious. Kylie loved playing on the upper bunks and making a “tent” (partition) to sleep behind on the lower bunks. Also, our room was surprisingly sound proof. We were on the end of a hall and that was a blessing because of our daughter’s sleep issues.
Or …I could tell you that it was the food. I can hardly believe I am raving about camp food, but it was that yummy! Did you know that Hidden Acres chocolate chip camp cookies (4C’s) are famous and people actually order them for postal delivery?
Or… I could share about our experience with 40 foot tall zip lining, the climbing wall and giant swing. All were firsts for my girl–how brave she was. What confidence that gave her!
Or…I could share about the first night’s breakout session on marriage with Gary and Barb Rosberg of America’s Family Coaches, where my husband Dan won sex tapes. (Actually it is a set of 4 DVDS called “The 5 Sex Needs of Men and Women” and the companion study guide.)
Or… I could tell you how exciting it was on the last day to have our name drawn to receive a door prize. It was a beautifully wrapped basket full of massage goodness–bath salts, candles, sugar scrub, soaps, bubble bath, hand massagers, a loofah, and a gift certificate for a massage.
Or…I could tell you how amazing it was for Dan and me to have breakfast together 2 mornings in a row… ALONE–In a room full of people, of course, but without childcare duties because Kylie was still sleeping. Her Buddies stayed with her so we could eat together.
Or… I could tell you it was the many social opportunities that were presented for both us as adults but especially for our daughter where she was loved, cherished, protected, and accepted.
Or… I could tell you it was the pool hours. We loved being able to swim late at night.
However… none of those things were our favorite thing. Our favorite thing about the special needs family camp were Kylie’s Buddies, Lydia and Sophia. I knew this in general as we left the camp but I fully realized it on our way home. I’ll explain why later
When we arrived at camp and were connected with Kylie’s Buddies. Yes, “Buddies” is plural. Due to Kylie’s “out-of-the-norm needs” we were assigned two. I was a bit concerned that they were teenagers. It was hard enough to hand my child over to a perfect stranger, but it was even more difficult handing her over to young girls. It was especially hard to let go because our child has communication issues and cannot tell us when something happens or goes wrong. How were these girls going to be able to understand her or meet her needs?
Within 5 minutes, I knew my fears were all unfounded. Kylie warmed up to them right away, and they were already speaking her language. As Kylie initially met her Buddies, our Disney Royalty-obsessed daughter introduced herself as “Princess Kylie.” Immediately the girls tailored their communication style to accommodate her Royal Highness. Once again, God had planned things in advance and paved the way to provide the perfect Buddies for Kylie.
Lydia and Sophia rocked our world that weekend. They were such servants to our entire family. They were not just Kylie’s Buddies; they were our Buddies as well. But more than being our Buddies, they quickly became close friends.
We loved chatting with them over meals and as we walked to the various scheduled events. We learned funny, quirky things like Lydia has goats at her house because her dad has a side job as a goat judge, and she loves the camp cookies. Sophia loves Croc shoes and writing letters. We learned that Lydia loves turquoise and Sophia loves yellow.
But then, our talks turned more intimate and we learned their hearts’ desires for their future and how they longed to follow God’s will for their life. How they are growing in their faith and cautious about moving too fast, stepping out of His perfect will or become impatient for answers. How they are learning every day to press into Him and not make decisions based on worldly pleasures or desires. After a meal with these two, I was encouraged like I hadn’t been in months! These girls were so fired up for God.
We were only with them for 1 full day and 2 partial days, but they served us tirelessly. They stayed with Kylie while she slept, so Dan and I could eat. When we were all able to enjoy a meal together, they cleared our trays and took them to the kitchen. They helped us carry luggage, they hand-fed Kylie, helped her with her toileting needs, Googled information for us about the towns nearby and how to find the nearest ATM Machine. They checked on our itinerary and gave us directions around the camp. Lucky for us, the girls both had experience with the zip line, climbing wall and giant swing and gave Kylie the courage to try. They were aware of and attended to Kylie’s anxieties – her sensitivity to light and sound and her fear of food.
On our second day, we had 3 hours to kill before our time slot at the giant swing, so we all hopped in the car and drove to a nearby town for ice cream. It was a glorious time of fellowship! These girls were full time summer staff at the camp and had just come off of a week of counseling campers (with no air conditioning in their cabin) and working in the kitchen. These girls were TIRED before we ever even arrived. And yet, they pushed through their own needs to attend to ours- to love on our precious girl and to pour into her life.
But this is what secured in our minds that Lydia and Sophia were our favorite part of camp: On the last day, Dan and I gave each of them a thank you note with a little gift inside. Nothing big, just a little token of our appreciation. I was stunned when they handed us a letter and each of them gave Kylie a letter. I decided to save the reading of their letters for the ride home, so we gave them big bear hugs (we’d been together so much that we felt like they were family), took a few final pictures, and we got into the car.
As I settled into my seat for the long car ride home, I began to read their letters. We weren’t but a few miles from the camp and I was a blubbering mess as I read the words they gifted my daughter with. As a mom, you always hope your child will be surrounded with God-honoring people who will point them to Him with their words and deeds, but when you experience Autism, there just aren’t many people pounding down doors to fellowship with our girl. It is a lonely and isolating world for children who experience special needs. We have to work at making friends.
In their words, Lydia and Sophia invested in our daughter in a meaningful and lasting way. They each gifted her with a Promise and a Prayer.
“Beautiful Princess Kylie: You are a princess of the one true King and that is the most beautiful princess you could ever be. Kylie, I pray that as you go home and throughout your life, you will grow to become a God-fearing, loving, and confident woman in who God has created you to be. 2 Corinthians 6 tells us that we have God as our Father which makes us daughters of Him as well. Psalm 139:14 promises us that God made us wonderfully and fearfully, Ephesians 2:10 is my prayer that you would walk in the path God has for you: ‘For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good work, which God prepared before-hand, that we should walk in them’”
“Dear Princess Kylie: …You are truly a princess to the One True King, Kylie. God loves you so very much. His love will never leave you, it’s a forever love. He created you so pretty and He is pleased with you. I pray that as you go home and for the rest of your life you learn more and more about your Heavenly Father, and grow to be confident in the Lord. That you’ll love with all your heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37) Never forget that God is there for you at all times. It’s a promise that God didn’t make any mistakes when He created us. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!! Never forget that! Psalm 139:14: ‘I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. I know that full well.’”
They also made her some beautiful artwork. On the first, they put her name in the center of the page and surrounded it with these words in beautiful fonts:
Created by God for a Purpose
On the second they wrote, and decorated with beautiful fonts and flourishes, these words:
You are a daughter of the KING!
Yes, I can confidently say that Kylie’s Buddies, Lydia and Sophia, were definitely our favorite part of the special needs family camp at Hidden Acres. What a gift they were to our daughter and to our entire family. God, once again, went before us and worked everything for our good.
This experience will stay with us for a lifetime. We feel refreshed, renewed and reminded that God is for us. He has a purpose in every aspect of our life and we can do anything in His strength. (Philippians 4:13)
Has Your Family Attended a Special Needs Family Camp?
If so, we’d love to hear about your experience. So give the camp a shout out in the comment box if you want. Thanks!
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