Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would spend part of my summer break each year serving adults and kids with special needs. When I was 12 years old, my dad brought me with him to serve at a Joni and Friends Family Retreat. As the week of camp approached, I began to panic thinking to myself, What if I do something wrong or say something rude? I don’t know how to do this—I have no experience!
I took a step back and realized it wasn’t about me and how well I serve. My time at Family Retreat was about serving a family or person affected by disability and making them feel loved. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me.” I constantly come back to this verse when I need encouragement. I was scared that I wouldn’t know how to love people with disabilities, but as the words of this verse sank into my heart, I made the decision to love all people, regardless of the situation. I went to the Murrieta Family Retreat reminding myself that we are called to live like Jesus, loving those around us no matter what.
Let me confess, my experience that week was so eye opening that I have gone every year since. I learned that everyone around us is different whether we realize it or not. Some people have a different hair color, or an accent. Some people have a different background story. Family sizes vary, and my friends have different parents. So, you see, everyone is different. Just because we are different, we can still show love towards one another. And honestly, showing love to someone who is different is one of the best things you can do to show them they matter to you.
Loving those who are different than us is much easier than you might think. Look at all your friends and family—are any of them exactly like you? Of course not! And yet, you love your family and friends. Please take this as an encouragement that you can love anyone who is different than you.
So, how do we show sincere love to others? Loving people is a choice. Loving people who are different than you might feel like a hard choice, but it’s still a heart decision. Making the choice to love others, was the first step for me. And, as I made the choice to love those who were different, I became more comfortable interacting with them. Through my experience at Family Retreat, God took me out of my comfort zone, taught me to trust in Him, and showed me that I can love anyone.
I don’t have superpowers that magically let me love people, it’s by the grace of God—He opened my heart and taught me to love. If you are like I was—nervous and unsure of how to love those who are different from you—I encourage you to reach out to Christ. He is faithful and will teach you too. It may take some time, but jumping into it with God is the best way to do it!
Cassidy Dobes is a sophomore at Adolfo Camarillo High School where she plays for the CIF division championship softball team. Cassidy has had a heart to serve since she was young, and has especially enjoyed serving at Joni and Friends Family Retreats. Her life was changed when she began spending time with people affected by disabilities who have tremendously inspired her.