Friday, July 10, 2015

Bringing Home a Little Hope from the Beach

As I've shared before, this verse perfectly describes how we have done life since the beginning of this journey.  I remember sitting in Paige's first hospital room--watching her sleep off those first rounds of chemo.  Completely broken, I read scripture after scripture, praying God would speak to me--and then through me as I put our first blog post together.  The post that would serve as the beginning of our journey and proclaim my complete faith in God's incredible mercy and grace.  This is the verse that clicked with me.  It's all about prayer, patience, and hope.  Hope is an amazing gift, my friends.  Grounded in the Word of God, hope actually keeps us grounded and focused, keeping our eyes on the prize.  It helps us press on through life's struggles.  One of my favorite promises is found in Jeremiah 29:11.  It speaks of God's plans for us--plans that give us hope and a future.  

That's not to say that times don't get tough.  Nobody experiences smooth sailing and blue skies all the time.  We can all find ourselves struggling when life's waters get rough.  That's when it becomes even more important to hold on to even the tiniest glimpse of hope.  Our Lighthouse friends wanted to drive this point home by sending a Hope Box with us on our drive home.  Its contents are meant to serve as a reminder of that incredible week of rest and restoration.  A CD of music.  Bibles for parents and kiddos.  A copy of Jesus Calling for daily devotion time.  A picture frame that will soon hold one of my favorite photos of us with our Family Partners.  And my favorite item--a Hope Jar. 

The Hope Jar is filled with scriptures, song lyrics, and notes of encouragement from the whole Lighthouse team, who prayed over all of the retreat families as they assembled these gifts.  Our jar now sits in a prominent place in our living room, ready and waiting to provide those reminders of hope when we need them most.  I can't think of a more perfect way to bring home a little hope from the beach.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Place Where God's Light Shines

...let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.   Matthew 5:16

Last week our family took a vacation.  Yes, a vacation--out of state, no less.  We packed up the car and set out on a road trip to the beautiful Florida coast.  More on that in a moment.  I'm still hanging on the word vacation.  Images of sun, sand, and relaxation fill my mind.  Vacation.  Relaxation.  It's been a long time since those words were uttered from my lips.  Between weekly clinic visits, chemo, and unpredictable counts, taking a break of any kind just wasn't a possibility.  Until now.

Paige is now almost seven months into the maintenance phase of treatment.  She still has a pretty strict regimen to follow, but the time between trips to TCH--combined with the fact school is out for the summer--actually now provides some much-needed down time.  A while back, I learned about an organization called Lighthouse Family Retreat.  They offer families living through childhood cancer a time of rest and restoration in the form of peaceful seaside retreats.  Lighthouse recognizes the enormous financial challenges associated with childhood cancer, and they work with partners and sponsors to provide an amazing experience--a real vacation from the chaos of cancer--at no charge to the families.  Holding on to the hope Paige would be healthy enough to travel, we completed the application process and were thrilled to receive notification of our acceptance to a retreat in late June.

Now...back to our road trip.  Paige had just completed a successful trip with The Sunshine Kids and received a good report on blood counts at our last clinic visit.  It was as good a time as any to test the waters for some out-of-town family time.  Praying for good health and safe travels, we set out on our journey.  Nine hours later, we began what would soon become one of the best weeks of our lives.

Once we checked in with the registration team, we were introduced to our Family Partners for the week.  Family Partners are matched with retreat families and come into the experience with total servants' hearts.  This particular week happened to be a mission trip for a multi-campus church in the Atlanta area.  These amazing people were there to serve, and serve they did!  Our car was unloaded for us, our bags taken to the appropriate rooms in our villa.  A plate of fresh-baked cookies was waiting on the bar, while lanyards, bags, and welcome notes awaited us in our rooms--and that was just the start!

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 
and I will give you rest.   Matthew 11:28

A picnic dinner at the beach was the perfect way to get acquainted and take in some of our beautiful surroundings.  I often found myself staring in awe at the sparkling white sand and blue-green water--and then the sun began to set.  What majesty!  After reminding myself I wasn't dreaming, Paige and I chatted with our new friends while Boyce and Jeremy headed straight for the water.  Who needs a swimsuit when you can walk right into the water in your clothes?  Paige's foot was healing from a cut, but we got to the water's edge for our pic too!  Day One--done!

Each day of the retreat focuses on a central theme. From scriptures shared to the day's activities, these themes would be embedded in all we did.  After breakfast each morning, retreat parents would come together for Common Ground--a time of sharing and fellowship.  We quickly discovered that though we have different backgrounds and circumstances, we share a common path.  It was unbelievably therapeutic talking about this journey with others who truly get it--because they've been there as well.  They're living it every day--just like we are.  The world of childhood cancer can be really isolating.   People don't always know what to say, nor do they always want to know what it's really like. The connections made during Common Ground will remain long past our week at the beach.

While the parents met for Common Ground, retreat kiddos participated in Flip Flop.  Along with children of partner families, they were grouped by age and gender for some fun in the sun.  Swimming, games, and talent show preparation filled their mornings.  Rainy morning?  No problem.  Family partners hung out with their assigned retreat children for games and silliness in the villa.  Our group's card game of choice?  A rousing game of Spoons!  Intense competition, for sure!

After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace will Himself restore you and make you strong and steadfast.  1 Peter 5:10

We 'Conched Out' each afternoon.  This was downtime for families to head to the beach, hang out at the pool, explore the town, or do whatever we felt like doing.  It was time to reconnect as a family--away from hospitals and clinics, away from bills and other obligations.  A scenic drive along the beach was incredibly peaceful.  Paige pointed out her church camp location from a couple of years ago, Jeremy and I searched for sand dollars and seashells--and of course, there was souvenir shopping.  As we left one of the stores, I was overcome with emotion.  In short, I became a weepy mess.  Why?  We were doing run-of-the-mill touristy stuff.  Nothing special--to many people.  To me it was suddenly a monumental, call-the-newspaper kind of thing.  We were 600 miles away from home--yet there was no anxiety about cancer or treatment or side effects.  There was simply peace.  Paige's health is being restored a little every day--and she looks it.  Last year we called a movie outing or time in Grandma's pool a success--but this year is different by miles--literally!  On our way back to the villa, we enjoyed dinner in the beautiful town of Seaside.  It was a perfect day.

The Lord is my strength and my shield.  
I will trust Him with all my heart.  
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.   Psalm 28:7

Evenings at the Lighthouse Family Retreat are FUN and provide everyone involved with wonderful memories.  A luau that ended a little early thanks to a passing storm.  An un-birthday party for the kiddos while parents were treated to a date night.  The last night saw a talent show to outdo all talent shows--amazing acts by the kids and silly contests for the parents.  I haven't seen my husband dance in a long time, but it was awesome to see him get out there with the other dads and ham it up for his kiddos.  We finished off the last evening of the retreat with epic card game battles with our Family Partners, who might as well be actual members of our family now.  To say we clicked with them is an understatement.  I love these people!

Just a few hours later, the time came to leave our little paradise.  Everyone gathered to say their "See You Laters"--they don't say "Goodbyes" at Lighthouse.  Once again, I became a weepy mess as I wished our new friends safe travels.  These people will hold a place in my heart for a long time to come.  We shared so much over the course of a week--and feel beyond blessed to have had this special experience for our entire family.  Rest, restoration, experiencing joy, and finding hope in God are the goals of the retreat.  Those goals were met--in a big way.  "The Lighthouse Song" describes the lighthouse as "a place where God's light shines."  And shine it does!

   May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace
as you trust in Him.   Romans 15:13