Sunday, August 01, 2004



End of Week #8 of DI #2, CCG 1991, Arm D

OK, here’s pretty much the way I see the world:

There are dog people, and there are cat people.

There are sock people, and there are barefoot people.

There are beer people, and there are martini people.

There are city people, and there are rural people.

There are beach people, and there are lake people.

Blaine and I have always been, without a doubt, sock-wearing, beer-swilling (well, him, not me) canine-loving, rural-living, LAKE people. The beach has just never “done it” for us. The sand is gritty, the water tastes nasty, my skin gets sticky, the seaweed is slimy, you have to watch out for creepy crawlies in the water, and did I mention that the gritty sand gets EVERYWHERE????? Plus, it’s just not as easy to water-ski in the ocean!

However, if ANYTHING or ANY VACATION was enough to change our minds, and swing us over to the Beach-People side of the equation, it would be this past week at The Lighthouse Family Retreat in Gulf Trace, Florida. I simply cannot remember a time when our family had so much fun, and felt so cared about by others.

A brief history: Melinda, the founder of The Lighthouse Family Retreat, worked as a pediatric oncology nurse for eight years, but felt God had a vision for her to create a seaside family retreat for children with cancer. In 1999 she resigned from her job as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and started working full-time to develop this ministry. The first week-long retreat was held in 2000 through the hard work of Melinda and the *amazing* dedication of volunteers. Although land has been donated for the Lighthouse to build their own permanent seaside facility, for now they rent facilities, offering seven to 10 retreats a year, helping 80-100 families. And for us to have been one of those families this summer …. Well, I don’t think it gets much better than this past week!

I’m not exactly sure I can find the words (now THAT’S a first!) to describe the kindness and generosity shown to my family this past week. First of all, the retreat is just plain FUN! Arts & crafts, swimming, movies on the beach, singing, Beach Olympics, a luau, a talent show; it seems like the activities just go on and on. But we also had plenty of time to simply hang out on the beach, soak up some sun (which equates to slathering sunscreen on our kids twelve times a day!) or relax in our condominium, getting to know the other families.

One of the families we had a chance to become acquainted with is a family I had met online, through Caringbridge; Jenny, Tre’ and Catie. They are such fun and it was a real treat for us to get to know them in person ….. and of course now we’re rooting harder than ever for Catie to win her battle with medulloblastoma, a brain tumor. Kendrie was pretty much OBSESSED with Catie, so it’s good they only live a few hours from us, as I have a feeling that upcoming visits will be in store.

Tre', Jenny, and Catie, with her face painted like a kitty-cat!

But back to the retreat. Not only did Melinda and her crew provide plenty of opportunity to keep us as busy as we wanted to be, laughing, playing, and spending time as a family, they also worked incredibly hard to make this week a time of relaxation and restoration.

Upon arrival, we were assigned “Family Helpers”, a wonderful young couple named Brooke and Preston, whose goal it was to do everything in their power to make the week easier for our family. They helped with basics like laundry, getting us drinks at meals, folding down our beds at night and putting fresh-baked cookies and hand-written notes on our pillows (of course, the cookies were my personal favorite part!) and taking our kids under their wing in a way I just can’t explain. Any time Blaine and I had a parent group or outing to attend, Brooke and Preston were right there, taking our kids on activities and keeping them involved and comfortable. They hung out with us on the beach, took the kids crabbing at night, and tolerated (with amazingly good humor) the kids climbing all over them for six straight days. They’ve been married less than a year, and I’m a little worried they might decide never to have children of their own, after spending so much time with ours!

Blaine and I have been on vacations before where people waited on us hand and foot, but it seemed normal because we were paying them to do so. In this instance, though, Brooke and Preston took on this challenge, as did all the volunteers from Woodstock Baptist Church, who sponsored the retreat, as a missions trip and a ministry to help families like ours who simply needed a break after dealing with the day-to-day struggle of living a life with childhood cancer. They gave up a week’s vacation and paid to come to the beach, not to be waited on themselves, but so they could help others. Like George Bailey says, if every time a bell rings you know an angel just earned his wings, then the Mormon Tabernacle Handbell Choir was busy this past week in Gulf Trace! Thank you, Preston and Brooke! And thank you to Woodstock Baptist Church for sponsoring the retreat and helping Melinda realize her dream for families!

Like I said, lots of fun activities, like the Beach Olympics where all the families and volunteers were split into teams for some friendly competition in categories like Building the Best Pyramid, Obstacle Course, Ring Toss, Egg Toss (which I managed to lose spectacularly …. Does anyone know how to get egg white out of a swimsuit?) Kite Flying, Sponge Race, etc.

Notice how much faster you run when your tongue is sticking out?

Kendrie proudly displays her ring tossing abilities.

Our Team Cheer:

“We’re the Great White
And We Know How to Fight!
Come Near Us
And We’ll Bite, Bite, Bite!”

(maybe you have to hear it in person and see the hand movements to be properly impressed, ha!)

One night we had a luau and hula-hoop competition, which Brayden worked really hard at. Considering she had rarely hula-hooped before, I thought she did a great job and it was so much fun to see her working so hard to figure it out!

One night we had a Talent Show, and all I have to say about this is that no coconuts were harmed in the taking of this picture.

Lots of swimming in the ocean, although the kids’ enthusiasm was dampened when one of the boys in our group got stung by a jellyfish. It took a little longer each day to coax them into the water after that, but once they got in they had a ball, and Brayden proclaimed herself the “Queen of the Jelly-Fish Spotters”. You would have thought she had spotted Jaws, each time she pointed to one floating in the water. And while I’m sure the kids will say the highlight of the week for them was going hunting for crabs each night, can I just say that my son is SUCH a girl?!?! He was so funny, walking along the beach with his flashlight and net, eagerly pointing out the crabs for Preston to scoop into the bucket. But just let one of the crabs (about the size of a nickel, just to give you a mental picture) turn and start running towards him, and he would drop that net and run, SCREAMING, in the other direction! Seriously, these crabs weren’t much bigger than houseflies, and you would have thought it was Attack of the 30-Foot Arachnids! When I wasn’t so busy laughing at him, I was laughing at him.

And for Blaine and me, besides the rejuvenation of simply “getting away from it all”, the highlight was meeting the other families, all of them understanding exactly how we feel and what we’ve gone through. Blaine and I have been blessed to have family and friends help us through this ordeal, but only another family, who has undergone the exact same challenges …. Who has had a doctor look them in the eye and say those words, “I’m sorry, your child has cancer” can truly understand the fears, the frustrations, the joys and the struggles.

I mentioned Jenny and Tre’ earlier, and another family we were able to become better acquainted with, were Mike and Kristin, and their sons Ryan and Brandon. We had previously met them in April at the Camp Sunshine Family Weekend, but got a chance to visit more in Florida. All four of them are such neat people, but Kristin especially is an inspiration. The work she has done, and continues to do, to raise funds and awareness for childhood cancer is so encouraging!

Mike, Kristin, Ryan and Brandon

And of course the best news for us all week is that Kendrie felt well and was able to keep up (for the most part!) with everyone else. You can tell by this picture she was getting a little tired at the end, but shoot, so were all of us!

It was a vivid reminder to us of how lucky we are, when one of the teenage boys at our retreat had to be airlifted back to Atlanta when he began having trouble breathing. To give you an indication of how much fun we were all having, the reports came back that the boy was most upset at not being allowed to return to the retreat! But our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family as his condition improves and he can hopefully return home soon.

Anyway, I hope that gives you some indication of how much fun we had, and a glimpse into the hearts of the wonderful people who worked so hard to make it all possible. It is definitely humbling to be on the receiving end of such kindness. And even more humbling when I realize I’ve never been on the giving end, either. Of course it’s a couple of years down the road, but Blaine and I are discussing the possibility of volunteering as Family Helpers ourselves in a few years and hopefully “paying back” the kindness that was shown to us.

If you happen to be walking along this week and stumble across a large bag full of money, and aren’t quite sure what to do with it, let me assure you that The Lighthouse Family Retreat is a wonderful organization, worthy of your donations. I know I keep repeating myself, when I say how great it was, and that I wish I could explain it better. But it was. And I do.

Love, Kristie, who now has one sock-clad foot on the Beach People side of the map!

Don't hate me if you have dial up. I took over 200 pictures this week ..... believe me when I say I held back from how many I *wanted* to share!!!

ps. Looking at our family picture above, I can understand how you might want to congratulate me on my pregnancy, as one parent did at the "See Ya Later" ceremony on our final morning at the retreat. Let me reassure you that it's 30 extra pounds and bad posture, not any upcoming blessing. On second thought, maybe all those fresh-baked cookies from Preston and Brooke weren't such a good idea!!!

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