For Gabriel life has never been what others would consider "normal."

Born January 2, 2006 with Aicardi-Goutieres Syndrome, a disease which affected his brain severely, Gabriel's parents would soon learn their son could not walk, talk, move his arms with coordination, see well, or eat normally.

At three months, Gabriel's parents were exhausted. "We were so tired and so uncertain," the family shares. "We were trying to be parents for the first time and had no one to share these experiences with."

Though Gabriel's family had heard of Joni and Friends on the radio, it wasn't until they heard about Family Retreats through other family attendees that they were encouraged to sign up for the Joni and Friends Family Retreat. The Stephens were blessed to receive a partial scholarship to retreat which allowed them to come. They had no idea what lay ahead of them.

"We never could have imagined that a community existed to meet us at our point of need. We were so astounded at how welcoming the other families were." After a week of

encouragement and rest, the Stephen's perspective changed, the abnormal became normal. "The disabled became able. And we began to look at Gabriel as a blessing and every day since has become another small victory."

The Stephen's family are like so many of our families that come to us weary and stressed. After 5 days of fun, fellowship and spiritual refreshment, these families leave feeling refreshed, renewed and ready to go back to "real life." It isn't unusual for our families to tell us that Family Retreats are like a little slice of heaven right here on earth!!