Years ago, I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post called “Missing Out on Beautiful.” It was prompted by my realization that it was really hard to capture Penny’s true smile in a photograph. We saw her beautiful smile all the time. It was just hard to capture. It felt like a little window into life with her at the time—those of us who got to be with her day in and day out saw the beauty. The outside world did not.
It’s still hard to capture Penny’s real smile with a camera. It’s hard for her to pose. But when we were at Hope Heals Camp together a few weeks ago, every picture with Penny in it involved her real smile, because she had that smile on her face pretty much all the time.
I asked her to share some reflections on her time at Hope Heals camp. I hope these thoughts give you a little window into beauty and celebration too:
Can you describe Hope Heals to someone who has never been there before?
Hope Heals is a camp where you try to make new connections/ friends. If you have never been there before Hope Heals welcomes you into their community. The reason why the camp is called Hope Heals is because the founders of the camp have this amazing story that newcomers get to hear. Katherine one of the founders of the camp had a massive stroke and there was 1 percent chance that she would live. This is why the camp is called Hope Heals. It’s called Hope Heals because Katherine and Jay have had healing in their life and they also had hope.
Who is Hope Heals for?
Hope Heals is for families that are affected with disability. Or has a member in their family who has a disability. We have family friends who are not affected by disibility but they still want to make the long travel to Alabama because they believe in God and want to make new connections with new people.
What was your favorite part of the week we spent there?
My favorite part of the week was the talent show. Every year Hope Heals puts on a talent show that features the campers and they can show their talents with a loving and supporting family.
Did you learn anything about yourself?
I learned that I can make new friends pretty easily but I also had friends who were waiting for me from previous years.
Did you learn anything about God?
I learned that God is a healer. He was in Jay and Katherine’s story, when Katherine had the stroke God was there for her. He cared for her. He made her live.
I know you’re hoping to return for two weeks next year–why would you want to be there for two weeks?
I want to return for two weeks because all of my current friends are there and I also want to make new ones. Plus I have always had a commitment to Hope Heals since the first year I have been there.
What is the daily schedule like at camp?
You wake up pretty early for a volunteer meeting,have breakfast and then there are different groups you are assigned to where you have a lot of fun with all the activities that you do together.
I’ve heard Alabama is really hot in the summer–how do you handle it? Is it worth it?
There are a lot of air conditioned buildings so if you feel hot I would go ahead and go inside to cool down. Even though Alabama is so hot in the summer it is definitely worth it.
Can you describe the talent show to me? What were some of the acts?
The talent show was a lot of fun. I thought I was nervous but reliazed I wasn’t I was ready to prove that I can do this. Hula Hooping,Singing,Piano playing.
What was your act? And how did it feel to be up there performing?
I was doing my Jazz dance from the spring show I had this year. It felt amazing I knew I had a supportive audience and everyone LOVED my act. People were giving me compliments all night and even the next day.
I heard there was a night called Christmas in July, but I didn’t get to see that at all. What happened that night?
All of the kids and teens were locked inside of Doug while the parents have a nice dinner in Phifer. It was breakfast for dinner. And then there were Christmas activities like a snowball fight but with foam not acutal snow. People were watching Frozen in Hall Hall. It was fun.
One of my highlights every year at Hope Heals is the Luke 14 banquet. Can you describe it?
That is also one of my highlights during the week. The Hospitality crew takes over Doug and transforms it into a beautiful setting with really good food. Another part of that same night you take this oil and draw a cross on one another’s hand.
Do you remember the story from the Bible that it comes from? Can you tell us about that story?
Jesus invites everyone to his house and calls it a special gathering. He invites all the poor,the lame, the sick.
What word was under your plate this year? Why do they write those words?
This year my word was talented. They write these words because everyone believes that you are the word that is underneath your plate.
What happens when people anoint each other?
Some people get teary eyed but unlike me I don’t. You basically draw a cross with annoting oil and say these words I am with you I am for you God is with you God is for you.
And, the dance party! How was it? Tell us all about it…
The dance party is always so fun. Great way to end the night even though everyone is always dripping with sweat. There was this big arch line that I went through with my best friend for life Caroline. High fives all around.
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