In summer 2012, our family had the honor of being interviewed by Joni Eareckson Tada. Getting personal time with Joni and Ken was a privilege already, let alone being featured on her radio program. But we had no idea that would lead to being selected for the annual Valentines campaign, “Hearts for the Disabled.”
Almost a year later on February 14, 2013 we came home to several large boxes on our doorstep. The boys were giddy as they tore through package after package of hand-drawn Valentines, books, treats, CD’s and gift cards. Some even sent cash.
The sheer volume was overwhelming. I wanted to savor the details of each one, reading each over and over again. Someone had copied their favorite song from a hymnal (not torn out!) A precious handwritten letter from someone with scoliosis and arthritis. A group of kids at an OT office had cut, colored and pasted personalized cards during their therapy sessions. A letter from a person with a disability in South America.
School children, parents, grandparents, teachers, therapists and folks with disabilities –folks we’d never met from all across the country– lavished us with their testimonies, stories of heartache and hope, and their favorite worship songs and Scripture passages.
Just like with the Bible, it was an epic outpouring of love letters and customized encouragement. It would take some time to digest it all.
I snapped a couple of pictures of the bounty and texted them to our JAF Church Relations Manager (a dear friend and mentor, who has helped us find special needs-friendly churches in our area.) I asked her to send on our gratitude. Joni then shared them in follow-up post on her blog!
And we are still being blessed. For several months after that Valentines Day, additional bundles continued to trickle in. In fact, just the other day (on January 23, 2014!) we received a “final” Valentines/Merry Christmas/Happy New Year card 🙂
This precious, 11th hour blessing brought a smile to my face. No matter how “late” a Valentine arrived to JAF, it was still celebrated and forwarded with a gracious cover letter from Joni. No one can appreciate “developmental delays” or delays in development, quite like Joni and Friends! Each person’s contribution was honored and valued, no matter how or when it came. Every one mattered, because everyone matters.
Blessed to be a blessing
To be honest, I felt a little guilty receiving so much. We certainly didn’t do anything to earn or deserve it. Surely, there were other special needs families more hard-pressed than ours (I’d met them at Camp!) There must be others who could use the lovely encouragement and gifts more than we did.
But that’s how grace works: it’s undeserved, unmerited and unearned. God blesses whom He chooses, and has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy. If He blesses us with extra resources, gifts or talents, it’s so that we can use them to bless others. He blesses us to make us a blessing: so that His people may demonstrate His generosity and give out of overflow.
Now, I don’t know how many other “Hearts for the Disabled” parents are bloggers. But this one happens to be. And today, I invite you to join me in sharing and multiplying the blessing of encouragement to this year’s “Hearts for the Disabled 2014” families.
If you’ve been moved to take part in “Hearts for the Disabled – 2014,” go to the Joni and Friends’ website to learn about:
1) Jim and Candy
Grandparents who adopted their four special-needs grandchildren, each with a variety of challenges.
A young man who was active until a snowboarding accident left him a quadriplegic.
3) John and Joanne
A family of six children, ranging in age from 7 to 17—including a 13-year-old son with severe autism.
4) Bev and Tim
29-year-old son Tim, who was born with severe and profound mental retardation, seizure disorders and he is deaf in the left ear.
5) Steve and Julie
Their son David passed away from genetic disease so rare, doctors didn’t have a name for it. Two other young adult siblings, Tyson and Paige, continue to persevere with the same condition.
All notes and packages can be sent to the families in care of:
Joni and Friends
P.O. Box 3333
Agoura Hills, California 91376
Paying it forward
Maybe you’re in the Midwest, stuck in a polar vortex/Snowmageddon. Could you use an idea (anything?!) to occupy the kids?
Maybe you’re a parent or Sunday School teacher looking for a kid-friendly activity. This introduces young ones to serving others and being mission-minded.
Maybe you’re an Occupational Therapist, seeking a fine motor activity that’s bundled with physical and spiritual benefits.
Or maybe you know a special needs family in your community who’d be blessed by an encouraging note (“You’re doing an awesome job!”), a delivered meal, or an offer to babysit or run an errand.
Whoever you might be, THANK YOU for having a heart for families like mine. Special needs families easily feel isolated, marginalized or forgotten altogether. Thank you for using your hearts and hands, construction paper and glue sticks, Starbucks cards or whatever overflow God has blessed you with, to remind us we are loved, remembered and precious in His sight.
“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
~2 Corinthians 3:2-4
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Diane, your blog post has warmed out hearts. Thank you for sharing Heart for the Disabled on your blog. We hope more people are encouraged to send in encouraging notes to these 5 special needs families. Love, Tatiana with the Joni and Friends Radio Team.
Tatiana, thank you so much for letting me know! So grateful for the blessings through JAF… and for the chance to multiply them for/with others 🙂 I really pray that’s exactly what happens. God bless you and the amazing folks at JAF!!! So thankful for all of you!