robert-behind every facade

robert-and-bryceThe campers had gone home, our Joni and Friends staff had packed up our things, all traces of Family Retreat were put away until I walked into the office of the conference center the next morning.  My husband and I were staying on an extra week in the beautiful little RV park at Mission Springs in the Santa Cruz Mountains, tucked up against the hillside, surrounded by the statuesque redwoods.  I had gone in to speak to the office manager.  There on the counter was a Happy Graham that someone had anonymously left for the conference center staff.  Happy Grahams are something that is a long standing camp tradition for Joni and Friends.  We write notes on brightly colored pieces of paper, to encourage and appreciate each other throughout our week of camp which is uniquely designed for families touched by disability.

“Oh wow!  Someone left you guys a Happy Graham!  That is so cool!”  I said, pointing to the yellow piece of paper on the counter, put out for everyone to see.

The gal at the front desk had obviously been touched by the simple gesture, “I know, read it!  It’s so sweet.  I can’t believe someone would do that for us!”

As I began reading the words of appreciation for all of the behind the scenes things that the staff of the conference center do for our camp, I knew immediately who it was written by.  “I’m pretty sure I know who wrote this and the amazing thing is, it’s one of our teenage STMs (volunteers that we call, Short Term Missionaries).”


“Yep.  He’s quite an amazing young man.”

Robert’s family had been coming to our camps since 1998.  In 2008, Robert came for the first time as a volunteer to serve one of our campers.  A bit young at 14, but we all felt that Robert had the maturity to do a good job.  His mother, a bit nervous, would come to me and whisper, “Is he doing ok?  Is it working out with Robert?”  I’d always reassure her that Robert had smoothly and easily fit into his new role.  Growing up with a mother who is an amazing, outgoing, kind and loving, Godly woman who also happens to have cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, had matured Robert beyond the typical teenager.  I love our camps and our volunteers and I especially love all teens and young people who give a week of their summers to come and serve our families!  But this young man’s own life experience had served to prepare him very well for caring for someone with disabilities.

After reading the Happy Graham that Robert had left in the office that day, I decided to ask him to write a story for iamviable and I am very  happy to be sharing it with you here:

Behind Every Facade…

Submitted by Robert

Walking down the streets of downtown Seattle, there are tons of people, listening to their iPods, talking on their cell phones, waiting for their bus to arrive.  That is the normal face of society these days.  But sadly, if you know where to look, there are also the homeless and the poor and people who are affected by a depressed economy.

Too often people are stereotyped.  Walking through the streets of any large city is a lot like walking into a Joni and Friends Family Retreat.

When I went to a retreat with my family for the first time, I was just four years old.  I remember wondering why some people I met could not talk, walk, or see.  For a young boy at that age, it was a very different environment.  It was so easy to stereotype the people I saw there.  Thankfully at that young age, God showed me grace and began teaching me the true evil that goes into stereotyping.

I also remember the first time I had a friend sleepover at my house.  I was in third grade, and felt as though I was exploring all the opportunities life had!  I thought long and hard about all the fun we would have at my house and the games we could play.  Then, my friend walked in the door and saw my mom in a wheelchair, and she was instantly stereotyped.  In his eyes, suddenly my mom became an unattractive part of our friendship.  He did not respect her in the least.  I wasn’t old enough to know how to explain that she was as much a dignified human being as he or I are.   Now, when my friends come to hang out, I can show them that physical ability or disability makes no difference and shouldn’t in any matter, anywhere.

More than anything, people are curious.  Only families which include an individual who uses a wheelchair will understand this:  Every time my mom gets in or out of the car on the wheelchair lift, others watch the little “show.”  Young children especially love to watch the lift in action, I personally think it is kind of cute, and opens a golden opportunity to explain that people with disabilities aren’t any different.  What really sours the moment is when a parent comes along and tells them the very opposite.

All in all, from walking through downtown Seattle, to getting my mom in and out of the car, there is a lesson God teaches which never fails to amaze me.  What God sees in a person is totally different than what society sees.  Society sees exactly what they can see only with their eyes.  It is easy to see that a person is blind, deaf, in a wheelchair, or has some other physical or mental challenge.  But that is all it is: a challenge.  In no way does it take away from the God-given traits of personality, dignity, respect, or individualism.

I believe that God uses wheelchairs, walking canes, and the simple language of hugs and smiles to disguise his angels.  Behind every exterior facade of a disability there is a person who has a warm and loving heart, and the most sincere of smiles that I have ever seen.

People who do not have the physical ability to see, may see the kingdom of God.

People who are not able to hear, may hear the voice that is the most important one worth listening to, the voice of God.

People who use a wheelchair are able to dance in their spirit and climb Jacob’s ladder without breaking a sweat.

People who cannot understand the things that society wants them to understand, have the ability to understand pure love, something even Harvard or Berkley will never be able to teach.

Behind every facade or outward appearance is a Child of God who has a life story to preach and a heart beating with love from a bigger Creator… every person.

Jesus was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit and said, “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding the truth from those who think themselves so wise and clever, and for revealing it to the childlike.”

Matthew 11:25


About editor

Kara Ferris is the Executive Director and editor of Wife. Mom of 3. Lover of people. Connoisseur of espresso. Master of Crazy Hair. Heart that beats for Jesus. Passion for those with disabilities, bringing honor, value and raising awareness of God’s intent and purposes for EVERY life. Blessed beyond imagination.


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  1. what a precious summary……I especially love the comparison to God’s Angels……God Bless you and your family as you continue to bless others……

  2. I am so blessed by this sharing… thanks. Robert, you are a brave young man, and God gave you a beautiful mom.

  3. Robert, this is awesome!! I am so proud of you! I loved reading what you wrote.

  4. Robert, you are wise beyond your years and a blessing to all. I know that you will be able to cope with the problems, as well as joys, that life may bring.

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