Together & Free: That’s a beautiful place to be!

Jammin’ Pie Fest 2016 was another grand success. The sweet tastes, sounds and community spirit were a smash hit again this year. Over 200 people and 75 different families experienced a colorful fall afternoon out on the lawn with friends, family, live music and 53 delicious homemade pies!


Walk Right In Ministries is tremendously grateful for the fun memories and encouraging stories coming out of Jammin’ Pie Fest 2016. Hours of volunteer effort, donations and prayers make a powerful difference for festival guests. We want to extend deep gratitude to our music artists Regie Hamm and Family Three as well as our generous sponsors Cub Foods, Schuler Shoes and Degree of Honor Insurance. Special thanks also goes to our many many gift card and service donors including AMG Photography who captured the heart of this special day so well.  All of this collaboration keeps the event FREE while making support and encouragement accessible to many. 

Jammin’ Pie Fest is always a beautiful community experience. A diverse group of individuals and families are refreshed and that is especially true for those who are stretched, sometimes isolated and needing hope amidst life challenges.  

We hope Jammin’ Pie Fest serves as an inspiration and model for what all communities can look like. Let’s consider how, throughout the year, we can continue embracing each other, growing in faith and experiencing the adventure of life together!

WATCH this wonderful video celebrating the memories and expressing our thanks:  https://youtu.be/BE69dGxseY8 

NOTE: Our event photographer, AMG Photography, has a special offer for Twin Cities area individuals and families who experience special needs. Visit https://amgphoto.smugmug.com for session information and enjoy many more memories!


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Delightful Opportunity for Dance Studios & Special Needs Families Nationwide

Do you know a child with special needs who would jump, twirl, bounce and hum at the chance to be part of a dance class? Darby’s Dancers is a wonderful new adapted dance program (non-profit based in Alabama) that has been growing rapidly nationwide. My daughter, Carly (with Angelman Syndrome, del+) has been in the program for 3 years and loves it!  Classes and costumes are FREE to students with special needs and each student is paired with a volunteer coach-helper.

I have come to know the founder of the program quite well and have offered to help her get the word out to others. Here’s her greatest challenge:

In signing up new studios to host Darby’s Dancers programs, they are finding that studios are very eager to support the concept but apprehensive about whether they will get enough students to fill their class(es). For example, right now Darby’s Dancers has two studio owners on the brink of signing — one from GRAND RAPIDS, MI and the other in MADISON, WI.

There is no question in my mind that lots of families want this type of program. It is just a matter of getting the word out. And as I know all too well, non-profits have limited budget for marketing. So we need to rally the word-of-mouth troops — and that’s YOU. Please help spread the word about this fantastic opportunity! Studio owners and the Darby’s Dancers team want to connect with parents of children who have special needs and organizations who serve them. These connections help them get the word out and build confidence with potential host studios that there will be enough interest.

Anyone interested in having a child participate and studio owners wanting to know more about offering classroom space should contact Valerie Jones darbysdancers@yahoo.com.
http://www.darbysdancers.com

8 Things Pastors Can Do To Foster a Disability Effective Church

Here are eight things lead pastors can do to foster a disability effective church.
  1. Teach from the pulpit about the theology of disability and suffering.
  2. Support outreach and care coordinators.
  3. Provide a budget that values inclusion.
  4. Provide space in the building for inclusive activities, support groups and accessibility.
  5. Pray and encourage prayer for and with those who have atypical lives.
  6. Endorse and publicly affirm programs, services, missions and inclusive activities that fully engage children, youth and adults who experience atypical lives (e.g., disability, mental health, aging, caregiving, chronic illness).
  7. Provide personal encouragement to struggling families and teams who are serving.
  8. Model what it looks like to whole-heartedly engage with people who have atypical lives.

Nancy’s Glory Story from Mount Hood

Mark and Nancy have experienced some extreme life adventures. For example, Mark is a talented water skier and snow adventurer. Nancy is passionate about horses and riding. Their son, Brandon shared his parents love for outdoor sports, animals and the mountains. Tragically, Brandon struggled with depression and took his own life in 2010 at the age of 28. Despite their deep sorrow, Brandon’s parents are carrying on their son’s legacy by finding ways to celebrate things Brandon celebrated and sharing his love for people by serving others with the love of Jesus. Mark and Nancy recently visited Mount Hood to scatter Brandon’s ashes. While there, they had a beautifully unexpected encounter with the Living God. We’re humbled that they are willing to bravely, vulnerably and joyfully share about it here so that others might be encouraged in the truth that God is near, powerful and good.


Our group gathered at the entrance of Timberline Lodge just before noon to commence up Mount Hood. Brandon’s friend, Adam, and three of Mark’s cousins joined us. Prior to our arrival, Mark’s cousin Nels had kindly taken on the responsibility of arranging logistics for our mission to scatter Brandon’s ashes on top of Mount Hood. He accomplished this by going straight to the top and discussing our intentions with the president of the ski resort (whom Nels happens to know). As it turned out, an experienced mountain transport person, Logan, was assigned to get our group (along with our precious cargo) “as far up the mountain as was reasonable” (per the resort president).  


When our group gathered in front of the lodge, Logan showed up promptly in an older Suburban and loaded the six of us into the truck. We started our ascent up the rocky, barren, dusty and steep path.  This was like driving around your block to Logan who was nonchalantly chatting with us as he careened around large boulders and near steep cliffs.  The rest of us were not so relaxed and hanging on for the adventure, which felt like you were in a Jeep commercial!  At 7,000 feet, Logan had taken us as far as we could go on four wheels because the next leg of the climb was almost vertical and involved icy snow patches. 


At this point, our group was escorted into the resort’s largest snow Cat (used on ski slopes to groom the trails). We were all in for the extreme ride of our lives. Again, Logan skillfully got us to our destination. We were on the top of Palmer Run, 8,500 feet up Mount Hood. We almost could have touched the clouds, if there had been any. But it was sunny, blue and about 55 warm degrees up there!  We felt God’s hand upon the weather, the gentle caressing breeze and our journey to stand atop this mountain. 


During our ceremony on a ledge of Palmer Run, Mark read a devotional. Then I prayed, thanking God for giving us Brandon for 28 years. We asked God for His help to continue releasing Brandon back to Him, “ashes to ashes,  dust to dust” as the mountain breeze took the ashes. There was a heartfelt group embrace and then we all noticed a raven as we dispersed from that ledge. The bird had suddenly flown to where we had been standing and it walked around for a few moments in the snow of Palmer Run and then flew to perch on the nearest chairlift. When we returned to the Cat where Logan had been respectfully waiting, he mentioned the raven and how they are so rarely seen on the upper part of the mountain. God’s presence seemed to have been revealed again as that raven appeared on our sacred ground.  
There was a final extreme ride going vertically down the mountain. Logan dropped us off back at the entrance for Timberline Lodge. Our group adventure seemed to be coming abruptly to a close and we said our goodbyes. Mark & I were to be staying the night at the lodge as previously reserved by Nels. But before he drove off with his kids, Nels informed us that our room was ready and we would not be paying for the stay or the transport everyone took to the top of the mountain. We were a little dumbfounded and stammered, “Now that’s awfully nice, but we expect to pay.” Nels replied, “Timberline will not take any payment. The President insisted that there would be no charge because Brandon was a part of the Timberline Family.”
Mark & I waved goodbye as we stood in shock. We were filled with gratitude and tears slowly streamed. God saw to it that our hearts were mended a little more that day from having to say goodbye to Brandon that February day a few years ago.

We are so thankful for our friends and prayer warriors who have helped us through this adventure — both the trip to Mount Hood and our continued adventure called Life.

Note: The subject of suicide is complicated. Four Brief Theses on Suicide offers a helpful reflection on the subject. 

Other resources you may find helpful:

  • If you are in a suicide crisis, call SAVE’s (Suicide Awareness Voice of Education) national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
  • Focus on the Family Help Center counselors are available Monday through Friday between 6:00 am and 8:00 pm (Mountain Time) to provide guidance and resources. You can arrange to speak with a licensed Christian counselor at no cost by calling 1-855-771-HELP (4357).  



Let us show you how to ROCK a Fall Saturday afternoon!

One day, some folks began pondering how to create a feast of family-oriented fun, entertainment and encouragement, especially for those needing a little hope and refreshing. Since one of these conversations took place among music lovers over a meal, is it any wonder that the idea of gathering ‘round a concert stage with food started taking shape? Attending a pie contest fundraiser with live music in Music City (Nashville) captured the attention of this competitive bunch too, so the dream was clarified and planning for the first Jammin’ Pie Fest in Maple Grove began.  

The Jammin’ Pie Fest is open to the entire community next Saturday in the Jamieson’s back yard. It’s a LIVE concert event and pie contest supporting a great cause—helping people in the midst of life challenges to make connections and grow in faith that God’s ways are trustworthy and good.  To top things off, we’ll have Regie Hamm at the piano, straight off a plane from Nashville! 

REGIE HAMM A hit songwriter, artist and producer, Regie Hamm has penned over 20 #1 hits, many of them in Christian music. He hit the Billboard Top 20 as an artist in 2003, and later went on to see his solo-written song “Time Of My Life” (sung by 2008 American Idol winner David Cook) stay at #1 for 4 months on the pop charts, making it the longest running number one pop song by a Nashville-based songwriter in history – beating out Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” by one week. Oprah called it the “official theme song of the 2008 Summer Olympics,” and David Cook announced that with the song, Regie had hit a chord with people. 

But the real story of Regie’s personal journey has had all the twists, turns, and drama of a Hollywood movie. He was raised in Pentecostal churches, tent revivals, and all night singings, but rose from those humble beginnings to experience unprecedented success in the music industry, writing 16 number #1 hits from 1994 to 2000. With Grammy and Dove nominations, and winning SESAC’s Songwriter of the Year award four times, Regie was about to launch into that same stratosphere as a pop artist signed to Universal Records.  

Nothing would prepare him, however, for the drama he would face in adopting a little girl from China in 2003, embarking on a 5 year odyssey to discover her severe genetic disorder, watching his life and a career spin out of control and finally landing on the other side in the rarest of places. Regie and his family have experienced the highest of highs …and the lowest of lows, and have overcome enormous obstacles on a journey that would test not only their physical resources and their faith, but their very sanity. Regie Hamm’s amazing story is chronicled in his book, Angels & Idols, and has recently been optioned for a Hollywood film.

Come! Be a part of a massive exchange of encouragement next Saturday, September 20th from 2:00 to 4:00 pm.  The back yard is located at 16553 81st Avenue North, Maple Grove, MN.

Bring your blanket or lawn chair. If you like, add a homemade pie for the contest and compete for awesome prizes. Pie taste testing will kick off the afternoon right away at 2:00 pm and Regie’s concert will start shortly after that. You’ll have opportunity to vote for your own favorite pies!

TICKET PRICE: *Donation 

(suggested donation = your age)

$20 rebate for those who bring a homemade pie

LOCAL JUDGES: Our panel of expert judges and pie enthusiasts includes Toni Fluke (owner of Great Harvest Bread Company in Maple Grove), Terry Savoie (owner of Red Rover Pizza), Karen Savoie (from the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens at General Mills) and Bud McDougall (prize-winning foodie and WRIM Board Member). 

CONTEST CATEGORIES INCLUDE: Taster’s Choice, Judge’s Favorite, Fruit Pies, Savory Pies, Cream-Style Pies, Chocolate Pies, Gluten-Free Pies, Prettiest Pie

Contest winners will receive fun and valuable prizes including music CDs, gifts cards and books. Please help us thank these donors, business owners and artists by following their blogs, giving them a “Like” on their Facebook pages and shopping for their products!

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Truly, this will be an afternoon that refreshes and re-energizes individuals and families with encouragement, fun and community. We will all be inspired, strengthened and comforted to persevere when life is challenging.  Rain or shine, enjoy a fun, relaxing afternoon among friends in Larry and Lisa Jamieson’s back yard. 

Bring the whole family and a bunch of other people with y’all! 

*Tickets are available at the door for a donation to the volunteer-run Walk Right In Ministries. Walk Right In Ministries is a Minneapolis-based non-profit 501(c)(3) charity that helps people connect and grow in Christian community when experiencing life challenges such as disability.

The Little Red Chair


‘Tis is the season of transition to summer routines. School and church activities like Bible studies, small groups and children’s programs are wrapping up.  It’s a perfect time of year to reflect on those who have had influence on our faith.  There are official “volunteer recognition” parties and fellowship lunches, gift cards given and Hallmark cards signed.   Whether our expressions of gratitude are official or spontaneous, they are important and powerful encouragement to volunteers who lead Bible studies, teach Sunday School, hold babies in the nursery, serve on worship teams, facilitate small groups, preach and inspire, make coffee, maintain our church buildings, be a buddy to a child with special needs, make meals for families when someone is hospitalized, speak or write words or encouragement, mentor youth, lead our congregations, administrate our offices and pray faithfully on our prayer chains.  The list of those who could be thanked and how we might do that goes on and on.  

Rhonda Roe and her Bible study friends recently found a creative way to thank their Bible study leader, Jan Christofferson. They have so valued the way Jan teaches and inspires them. I want to thank Rhonda for sharing today’s story and poem reminding us to give thanks and inspiring us share our Glory Stories of how we are personally encountering the Living God in His precious presence, power and goodness.

My Bible study leader, Jan Christofferson, often refers to what she learned in Sunday school as a small child.  She tells us about sitting in little red chairs and learning simple truths about Jesus and stories of faith. 

I have often thought how neat it would be to give Jan a little red wooden chair as a reminder of those special days in Sunday school.  This year I was able to make that dream a reality.  I found a small wooden chair at an antique store and purchased it.  My friend, Karen, painted it red and wrote a poem to give to Jan.  We recently gave it to Jan at our end-of-the-year brunch. 

I hope this story and the poem inspire you to share your faith with the children in your lives.  You never know if one of them will grow up to have a servant heart and a desire to lead a Bible study.

The Little Red Chair
by Karen Johnson
A little red chair, so tiny and sweet, 
with paint a bit chipped and wear from small feet. 
All week in the dark and lined up on the wall, 
but oh! Sunday mornings, that changes it all!
All proud in a circle, we sit in a state, 
for very small people to be quiet and to wait, 
for stories and singing, and maybe a treat, 
for words about Jesus, and God’s love so sweet.
A little red chair, a Sunday in church,
a small little girl using it for a perch. 
A love for our Lord, a kindness of heart, 
like most great achievements, had a small start.
A little red chair, now beat up and worn, 
abandoned, forgotten—but what of it born? 
A wee little child to hear and in turn, 
a life full of teaching so others might learn.
A little red chair, so cheerful and dear, 
with our thankful hearts we look at it here. 
A symbol for us, they make such a pair, 
our wonderful Jan and her little red chair!

Who might you thank today or this week? 
How could you do that in a way that is personally meaningful?

LORD GOD, thank you for putting people in my life who have pointed me toward You and helped me grasp my opportunity for relationship with you.  Thank you for using the stories I hear about how others are encountering You. Those stories re-assure me of your presence. They encourage me when I need to know someone else has walked in my shoes and found You to be faithful.  They spur me on when it’s hard to persevere.  They remind me that I have great value in your Kingdom.  Help me to hear what You have to say to me through friends, mentors, my spouse, my children and my parents.  Please help me to have a teachable spirit as well as a heart to serve and share how I see You at work in and around me.  I offer myself to you today (or recommit) to be used for Your unimaginable purposes.  Please bless the people I am thinking of now and minister to their needs as only You can.  I ask these things and give You my thanks in Jesus’ name. AMEN

Let’s Go ALL IN for an explosion of faith! #10,000Laborers

If I said you can play at a role in 
helping someone encounter 
a saving relationship with Jesus Christ 
THIS WEEKEND 
would you feel apathetic, scared, doubtful or excited?
I want you invite you to join me in jumping out of a comfort zone. Maybe you’re like me — a Christian with a passion to help others know the saving truth BUT not particularly comfortable with overtly “evangelical” conversations.  Does it surprise you that I’m not comfortable explaining the Gospel to someone who doesn’t know it or hasn’t accepted it yet? After all, I’m executive director of a Christian ministry that reaches people all over the world. Sure, my life’s passion and work involves helping people experience more intimate personal relationship with the Savior, but I am not (underscore NOT) an evangelist! Yes, I have even written books and blogs about disciple making. But that rarely involves overt presentation of the Gospel message with someone who doesn’t already follow Jesus. Nonetheless, I’ve jumped into an opportunity of a lifetime recently and I don’t want you to find out about it later and wish that you could have come along (because, trust me, a lot of you reading this right now will be hearing about it later and will truly regret that you missed out)!
A few months ago, I was presented with an opportunity to go on a local mission trip in July 2014 sharing the Gospel with people in the Twin Cities and to do so as part of a team as large as 10,000 laborers!  So I started attending monthly prayer, equipping and sharing experiences that are an empowering privilege — connecting me with Christ-loving people who want to lovingly share Jesus with people of the Twin Cities who are lost, broken and without hope.
From the faith perspective, I have to tell you that this is one of the more challenging but exciting things I’ve done in a long time. I’ve already been out on a couple of practice runs with Time to Revivie and I’m being stretched and encouraged in ways that are very satisfying and God-honoring.  Just last weekend I spent some time in a hospital coffee shop and met a young dating couple who were visiting their grandpa who was in his last hours/days with brain cancer.  My team asked permission to pray for them and they accepted with awe and tears in their eyes. After we encouraged them and shared the Gospel, they thanked us profusely and went back upstairs empowered to read the Psalms and sing hymns with their loved ones.  
So with a training recap coming up this Friday night and Saturday morning, there’s a fire down in my soul to share this really great opportunity with you. I am praying that you will take a hard look at what you have going on this weekend and consider whether God maybe leading you to participate in a few hours that could not only change your life but, more importantly, change someone else’s life for eternity!
There’s a FREE equipping session Friday night then Saturday morning involves worship, prayer, training review and practice within a small team!  You get paired up with two or three other people from churches all around the Twin Cities for an opportunity to pray for others and encourage them to go ALL IN with Jesus.  Even if you can only attend one session (Friday/Saturday), give it a go!  Larry and I will be watching out for friends and would love to see you there!  
And the beauty is that you can jump into the fun fray of this at any point (no prior experiences necessary). Adults, kids, grandparents…it’s multi-generational!
To learn more about the Revive Twin Cities experience or learn about what Time to Revive is doing in other cities around the country (soon to be near you), visit their website at http://www.revivetwincities.org 
#10,000Laborers
#ALLin
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As I post this right now, I’m praying that God grabs hold of your heart and time — spurs you into the adventure with us.  If you’re still on the fence or just want to ask me more questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at lisa@walkrightin.org.  I would just LOVE to see you at Grace Church this weekend.

Friendship: What about when it’s hard?

“But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”   Matthew 5:44-45

Ouch! Really? On the one hand, I don’t think of myself as someone with enemies or even someone who is persecuted (except when I remember back to painful days of vicious bullying in middle school). But then I think of all those days when my heart has ached for a friend to listen, for help to come through my door, for the reassurance that someone cares enough to be near even when my life is discouraging, relentless, overwhelming. This is not just my own heart’s cry. This is a common experience among most of us but especially someone who is facing a crisis.

Those of us who work in ministry with struggling people know that, for most people enduring life-altering circumstances, there is a sense of isolation and loneliness that invades which is often more upsetting than the initial crisis itself. Despite that fact that our family was overwhelmed with support in the early season of Carly’s life, there have also been many days when each of us has felt very alone — even abandoned.  In those moments or seasons, whether our feelings were fair and reasonable or not, these are dangerous thoughts to entertain because they tend to morph into things like bitterness, defensiveness and more isolation. 

We’ve all been there. Maybe you’ve felt forgotten by the world as you struggle with disability or some other adversity. Perhaps you’ve experienced the rejection of a friend, child or spouse. Maybe you have just longed for more or deeper friendships. In any case, you probably understand the insidious progression the mind can take when given opportunity to wallow in disappointment and dissatisfaction, particularly when relationships are involved. 

Navigating relationships is no easy thing. It’s hard to live in community but impossible to live without it. God designed us to need others and commanded us to love Him first and everyone else next. In fact, Jesus said all that mattered in life boiled down to those two things. “But,” you may ask, “what do I do about those people who have hurt or disappointed me? In particular, what do I do about those who are likely to hurt me again…and probably AGAIN after that?” The rhetorical question here is, “Am I supposed to be a doormat and just love and let live?”

Whenever I’m wrestling to find healthy, godly and satisfying answers to my question, “What should I do, Lord?” it helps me to reconsider what God’s ideals are and then find basic principles for living from His good design. 
In the case of relationships, here are some goals I find essential to keep at the forefront of my mind:
Keep God’s standard of holiness (Matthew 5:2-16)
Have a generous heart (Matthew 18:21-35)
Seek reconciliation (Matthew 5:23-24)

From a practical perspective, here are Biblical steps I try to take toward the goals:
  • Pray for reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
  • Ask God what I should do to please HIM in specific situations and relationships. I’m no longer trying to figure out what will please someone else or make me look good. I’m simply trying to do what is right according to God’s design because I’m increasingly trusting that His way is the only way to be fully effective and satisfied. (Proverbs 16:7)
  • Seek everything from God first, the One whose delight it is to surprise me with His presence and overwhelming love. Expect nothing from earthly man who will always fall short. (Philippians 4:6-7, Ephesians 3:16-19)
  • Identify godly, healthy boundaries and follow through on them with the same vigor I use to resist sin.  This is a hard one for me! (Proverbs 22:3)
  • Saturate my mind with God’s Word and walk away from everything that involves holding a grudge, seeking revenge, harboring unforgiveness, becoming defensive or participating in someone else’s sin. (Romans 8:5-6, Philippians 4:8)
  • Pray blessing on anyone who has hurt or disappointed me. I often ask for God’s help to see others the way He sees them. (Romans 12:14)
  •  Trust God to be my protector, defender and advocate. Quit trying to do it for myself! (Psalm 40)
  • Keep reaching out to serve others, asking for help when it is needed and growing in Christ-centered relationships. I need God’s help to resist my fears, skepticism and sense of vulnerability. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
How about you?

How would your relationships change if you obeyed Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:38-44?

What godly relational boundaries would keep you from participating in sin and allow you to experience freedom in Christ yet enable you to show God’s love to someone who challenges you?

I hope you will take time to read the extra Bible references provided, particularly if you find yourself struggling in any relationship. There are great riches for you in God’s Word! May the Lord bless you as you seek to know His heart and enjoy your community more. 

Shawn & Evan’s Glory Story

The following Glory Story has been reprinted with permission of Joni and Friends Minneapolis-St. Paul.  Thank you, Shawn for putting God’s power and presence on display through your stories and your life!

In Luke 14:23-24, Jesus tells us to reach out and “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” so that His house may be full. We are so excited to see how God is using your prayers and gifts to invite His children affected by disabilities, giving them new hope in Him. 

One person who was in need of such hope was Shawn. One afternoon last March, Shawn came into our office for a visit. Shawn had experienced disability first-hand with her daughter Alisha, who was born with cerebral palsy and required 24-hour care. Shawn had lovingly cared for Alisha for 17 years until Jesus called her home in 2010. Through her devastating pain and loss, God drew Shawn to Joni and Friends to share Alisha’s story and minister to others affected by disability. 

Soon after she started volunteering at Joni and Friends, Shawn visited Family Retreat. She was reluctant at first, frightened of her deep emotional response to seeing a child in a wheelchair. But from the moment she met a young man named Evan, nothing but pure love flooded her heart. 

“What joy I had with Evan! God started to heal my heart at Family Retreat when I met him and his family,” Shawn declares.

Shawn now actively volunteers with Joni and Friends. She helps serve as Jesus’ hands and feet, ministering to a hurting world. She has introduced many churches in Southern Minnesota to the disability ministry programs of Joni and Friends.

How about you? How might God want to use and bless you through volunteering with Joni and Friends this summer?  Click here for a video clip and explanation of what it’s like to serve as an STM or other volunteer at Family Retreat.
Please pray about it and help spread the word to others who may have interest.  Contact your local Joni and Friends office for more information.  In the Minneapolis area, that contact number is 952-933-7777.
Friends, if you have a Glory Story to share, please write us at info@walkrightin.org.   

Want to hear more of Shawn’s powerful story? At 23 years old, she was divorced, parenting two young girls including Alisha with cerebral palsy and considering ending her life.  But there was hope beyond her wildest dream!  Listen to her March 5, 2013 interview with Joni Eareksen Tada

The Power of A Thanksgiving Love Story

The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving 2000 were a time of profound emotion for Larry and I.  While overwhelmed with gratitude for an experience of remarkable community support, we had also just been told that our 2 1/2 year old daughter Carly had Angelman Syndrome. The news ripped our hearts. We suddenly felt strangely alone despite being surrounded by the love of friends and family.
Earlier that year, we had started an intensive home-based therapy program with Carly. Dozens of people from our church and neighborhood had stepped out sacrificially in a profound expression of practical helps and prayer. Yet for all of the developmental obstacles, a life-threatening seizure and then that devastating diagnosis, God had been using the love within that community to release miracles.
It wasn’t just about Carly. God was bringing about various kinds of unexpected healing. Carly was reaching surprising milestones but others were being shaped and changed through their intersections with each other too.  Healing was unfolding in physical, emotional and spiritual ways. It was exciting and humbling to experience such a tangible sense of God’s power and love.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  1 John 4:12

With the encouraging evidence of God’s presence among us, Larry and I were asked to share some of the story with our congregation during a 4-minute testimony at the Thanksgiving Eve service.  We had overflowing reasons to share but felt our passion would not allow us to stay within the time allotment and our tears of joy and pain would not allow us to speak.
Larry wisely suggested we use a video. It proved to be an efficient and effective way to express the depth of our gratitude and the growing passion we had to advocate for community that delights God.
That original video — Carly’s Thanksgiving Story — is posted here. (It’s now about 7 minutes long with the update Larry added in 2010.)
Tragically, there are many facing life-altering challenges without support modeled after God’s design for thriving community. Our family is blessed to know what it feels like to be embraced by God’s love through others. But we also know what it feels like to be abandoned. We have not always known such remarkable support. Thankfully, God also uses seasons of hurt and disappointment to stretch and strengthen us. Only God can do that!
Years later, in our book, Finding Glory in the Thorns, we expressed gratitude and some insights about community this way:

“The sense of community that grew out of our crisis was a treasure we’ll be hard-pressed to match in our lifetimes. We were increasingly energized to see how God was magnifying His handiwork. God was bringing a ripple effect of healing into other people’s lives because of what was going on around Carly’s situation…a beautiful picture of how He designed community to work.” (Page 73)

 “Yet for all the ways that community had the capacity for blessing, it also had the capacity to distract us from depending on Christ alone for our strength and solace.  So maybe it should be no surprise that just when God’s light on that grand collective adventure was shining brightest, God chose that time to reveal the true nature of Carly’s challenge and reinforce our need to stay completely surrendered unto Him.” (Page 75)

With every passing year, we appreciate more and more how economically God uses life’s challenges. He is teaching us that there is a privilege and grand adventure in how life unfolds when it is wrapped within the power, love and grace of Christ’s presence.
So as we begin another Thanksgiving week, we are both grateful for how God uses community to reveal Himself and we are praying that His people increasingly learn how to live sacrificially and joyfully in the kind of Christ-centered fellowship He intended. But most of all, we are grateful to experience intimate relationship with the One who holds the world in His Holy Hands.
May you, too, personally experience the joy and peace of that forever Love Story!