Our family has vacationed in the summer many times at a family style Christian camp/conference center called Horn Creek, just west of Westcliffe, CO in the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Vacationing at Horn Creek is a very “traditional” activity with many families coming back every year at the same time to reconnect with other families they have come to know. The camp is a mix of relaxation, spiritual input, and planned activities in a very family-friendly atmosphere.
We were there with our new son-in-law whose family had also had a Horn Creek tradition but at different times than our family. We also had three of our grandchildren there to “keep the tradition” alive, so to speak.
It was during this week in July 2010 we first met the Millets, a family with four teenage children, three of whom are disabled mentally and physically in some way. At Horn Creek you have the opportunity to really get to know the other guest at “your camp” as you eat meals together, often with a different family everyday, see each other at the sharing time in the evening, enjoy the slippery waterslide together, or play games late into the night. I had seen the Millets and enjoyed watching them lovingly interact. I also sympathized with the hard road they traveled, dealing daily with the physical and emotional challenges of caring for disabled children. I watched them returning from a fishing trip tired and bedraggled with everyone in tow, as well as participating in as many activities as they physically could. I saw Max and wondered about his life: his perspective of himself and others as part of a family with such needy siblings.
It was all very interesting and thought provoking, but there was an experience that happened later in the week that made me really want to know more about this “special family,” to share their story, and to encourage others as I, myself, was encouraged.
One evening the speaker shared that anyone who had come to know Christ in a personal way and wanted to be baptized could be part of a baptism in the swimming pool the next morning. It is always encouraging for me to see people find the same hope and peace that I’ve known as a Christian, so I decided I’d go and watch. I don’t remember who was baptized that day, but I do remember what happened afterwards. Whoever was leading the service told those who were there to find someone close to them as a partner. I was standing right next to Jon Millet and his son, Marshall. The leader asked us to face our partner and sing a song familiar in Christian circles called, “I Love You With the Love of the Lord.” Without hesitation, Jon grabbed both of Marshall’s hands, looked straight into his less than perfect son’s face and sang these words:
“I love you with the love of the Lord,
Yes I love you with the love of the Lord.
I can see in you the glory of my King,
And I love you with the love of the Lord.”
It was such a beautiful moment and by the time that short little song was finished the tears were streaming down my face. I think I understood a little better that day how God loves us in our sin and brokenness. All of us are far from being the “beautiful people” we long to be. Here was a father who could have no great aspirations of grandeur for his teenage son who would never grow to be an outstanding athlete, a successful doctor or businessman, someone great in this world’s eyes. But just like God, his love wasn’t dependent on achievement—it was love for love’s sake—“while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(Romans 5:8) My heart was touched in a deep and profound way. Right then I felt I wanted to do something--very in keeping with my participator rather than spectator personality! I was in the process of publishing my first children’s book and thought a story depicting this family could be a gift to them and a way of honoring the Millets and others like them who deal daily with challenges in their lives and families.
I made a point that evening to visit with Jenni and hear their story. I wanted to hear about how all this came to be. I also wanted to get to know a little about each member of the family so I could accurately describe them and incorporate their personalities into the puppies that represent them in the story.
When I got home I began writing immediately while the thoughts and sentiments were fresh in my mind. When I was finished I sent it off to the Millets, hoping it would meet their approval. I was pleased to hear that my depiction of the children was a good representation and they were willing to let me share this story with others.
I am excited that the story is now becoming a book for many to read and enjoy--to ponder and consider.
My first thanks goes to God who is the first and best lover of the less than lovely in all of us—whose example we are following when we treat all people with dignity, respect and honor because they are part of God’s creation, His purpose, His design. (See Psalm 139:13-16)
And, of course, I want to thank Jon, Jenni, Max, Mikayla, Marshall, and Marie for letting me tell their story and share it with you, the reader. I pray this book will be a blessing in their lives and in the lives of many others.
So very sincerely,
Mary Ellen Tippin
Texas, not Colorado, a sunny day in April, an adventure with my daughter and granddaughter—what was this all about? I was once again connecting with the Millets: Jon and Jenni, Max, Marshall, Mikayla, and Marie!
It was the summer of 2010 when I first met the Millets and was inspired to write a book about their “special family.” I have already chronicled that experience, but I didn’t want my connection with them, my meager knowledge of them, to end there. My daughter lives in Dallas, so on a visit to her home, I decided to make the short trip to the Millet’s almost country house!
Our party consisted of myself, my daughter, Ellen, and three year old granddaughter, Aubrie. As we rang the doorbell I could hear a bit of scurrying inside and saw a face through the milky glass. It took just a bit and Max was at the door greeting us along with Mikayla and Marie. He very politely invited us in and went to get his mother. We were greeted warmly, and I knew why I had enjoyed visiting with Jenni about her family at Horn Creek. After offering us something to drink we sat down. Just about that time Marshall walked in followed by Jon and friends, James and Mary Ndungu, who were there to work on plans for a mission trip to Africa this summer which Jon orchestrates every year for students at the school where he is head of the art department. “Jon doesn’t just “help orchestrate it…he does orchestrate it!” Jenni emphatically stated. “EVERTHING. It was his idea to take his students over there, and his planning that keeps us going back. He is very humble about it but spends so much time organizing it literally year-round, it is almost like having a part-time job. It is truly a labor of love but something we both feel is a wonderful ministry to both our Trinity Christian Academy students as well as the people in Africa. I really just help him with it, but he is the main force behind the trip, and it literally wouldn’t happen without his vision and heart for missions,” Jenni explained. This summer they are planning on taking eighty students and family members—an overwhelming amount for me to fathom! Jenni had previously sent me a picture with their whole family in Africa the summer before. This year only Max will be accompanying. I’m learning this family is “special” in more ways than one.
After a little small talk and hearing about their upcoming trip it was on to the interview. Okay, confession time! I’m not an English major—I’m not a journalist. I’m a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a dental hygienist (retired many years ago!) So with a bit of fear and trembling, clutching my paper fulled with questions, we began.
My first question was about the lessons learned raising four children, three of whom are disabled. Jenni responded by telling how amazed she has been at the way GOD demonstrates HIS love to the people they know and meet as those same people watch the Millet family love and care for their disabled children. It is a beautiful picture of GOD’S redemption, of HIS “buying back people who are in bondage to sin and broken” and welcoming them into GOD’S forever family. Jon’s response went down a different road, expressing how having children with disabilities has caused him to view the world with a new focus. His “radar” is in tune now to other families struggling with disabilities. In fact, one of the things they do on the mission trip to Africa is visit and minister in a school for the disabled in Kenya. The Millets told a story of how, when they were at that school last year with the whole family, they were touched and so pleased to see fifteen year old Marshall, who has a struggle to walk himself, helping another student to maneuver down the hall. Watching Marshall serve others was a special moment for them and was, to me, a picture of their own faithful daily example.
The next question had to do with what they wished others knew or understood about people with disabilities. Jon and Jenni expressed that people don’t know how to treat the kids in a normal, everyday way. Just being a friend can mean so much. They related how Mikayla has a friend, Maddie, with whom she has been pals for years. Maddie is an honor student and “normal,” yet she and Mikayla have enjoyed a warm friendship. In fact she was coming over for a sleepover that very night. Jon pointed out something else that I thought was very profound. Disabled people have to “wear” their disabilities for all the world to see. They can’t hide them or cover them up. We all have weaknesses and, you might say, are disabled in different ways, but we have the ability to hide our weaknesses from those around us. Disabled people don’t have that luxury. The thought that we are all “broken” in one way or another helps us see the world and those in it on a more level plane. Jon was also quick to add he felt God has given those who are disabled a special measure of love, joy, cheerfulness, and perhaps forgiveness for the ineptness of the people around them.
While we were having our conversation we were gathered in the living room, all in chairs except Max who was out of the center of attention in a corner on the floor. Everyone seemed to be listening and in tune with the conversation. Mikayla was all smiles when we talked about her friend, Maddie. About this time thirteen year-old Marie was tired of being left out of the conversation. She wanted to add her thoughts and told us how she had started singing when she was one. She also told us how she liked to play soccer and cook and that Max had broken her arm when she was five. At that comment Max good-naturedly chimed in that he wasn’t even home when she broke her arm swinging. In her mind, however, it was his fault because he was the one who had taught her to swing! We all had a good laugh over that story. We also heard how when Max was little he would say that Marie was “good medicine”—that idea coming from the verse in Proverbs 17:22 which says, “A joyful heart is good medicine…”This started us into a conversation about all the different personalities of the kids—just like any other family. Max is ever kind and sensitive. In fact Marie told us that he never gets mad. Quite a compliment for an eighteen year-old high school senior! Jenni relayed how he spent so much of his childhood in and out of doctors’ and therapists’ offices as she took the other children there for their various needs and treatments. She always felt so sorry for Max. Instead of developing self-pity he became empathetic and, I was told, has the ability to get along with just about anyone. No wonder he is considering the career of a marriage and family counselor. Mikayla is quiet and loving. She sat by as we talked with a lovely smile on her face. Marshall is ever the tease and, I was informed, a great high 5-er. He got the biggest grin on his face when his parents told about a field trip he was on, and the teacher took a picture of him surrounded by girls. He also loves fire trucks, firemen, etc. and has some very good friends down at fire station #3 who, to Marshall’s delight, have taken him under their wing. Of course you have already heard about Marie and her lively and enthusiastic personality. Like all families everywhere, including my own five children, everyone has a unique and special design.
The sources of strength and help for the family were the topic of our next discussion. The Millets find enormous strength and comfort from their Christian faith. Jenni told how she and Jon used to pray for healing for their kids every night, and they still do. They know that GOD has the power to do that but has chosen not to. Jenni said, “But years ago we decided we were praying the wrong prayer. So we began to pray that GOD would USE our family to bring glory to HIMSELF in whatever way possible,” Jenni continued. “And if more people are reached through a disability, then that’s okay. The children are precious gifts to us and we have learned more about love and Christ’s gifts to us through our experiences with our children.” Jon talked about praying very specifically for GOD to work in the lives of each of his children—that each child would grow to be a man or woman of GOD. He pointed out how GOD has the ability to take his mute and disabled son, Marshall, and do something powerful in his life and in the lives of others through him.
Of course the role of family, friends, their church, and schools has been major in their lives. No one can walk this road alone and do it well. Jenni candidly told how families with disabilities often fall apart and and shared a bit of their own marital struggles in the early years. She expressed her real appreciation for Jon and his partnership with her. Walking the path together has made the load lighter.
A nice big backyard; uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents; a swing for Marshall, card and board games, and camps, like Camp Eagle run by an uncle, are sources of family fun, and even the joking and teasing that I observed between family members when visiting, conveyed love and unity. Jon also expressed that he didn’t want his family only defined by their disabilities. He wanted to give his children as many normal experiences as possible.
It was about time for us to leave. We had to pet Snoopy the dog before we left and give hugs all around. We’d had a great visit and had become “friends.” Writing my book-- and the thoughts and editing that required--and now this special time together, had made me feel closely attached to each of these children--these precious, precious children.
Now you may be thinking, “Sounds too good to be true.” Do they struggle? Yes! Do they get discouraged? Yes! Is their life extra hard? Yes! Are they thankful for the family God has given them? Yes! Can God use them and their less than perfect family to bless others? Yes, yes yes!
When we arrived back at my daughter’s home, her lively and quite talkative daughter, Aubrie, repeatedly referred to our time at the Millets. “What was the “special family’s” dog named?” “Will we go see the “special family” again?” In all her comments she would refer to the Millets as the “special family.” You know, I think she had it about right—“SPECIAL” and “CHOSEN” for God’s glory!