Ella and her family have found a beautiful way to love others. As you read her story, you may find God tugging on your heart to join in the experience. See the link at the end for information on how you might find a sweet new "thing to do for love!" Listen to Ella's story ...
Blue Skies... not something families facing pediatric cancer spend much time seeing or thinking about. After a friend's 2 year old was diagnosed with a brain tumor, our family prayed for them, visited them, and made meals for them - but we soon realized this was not a short term journey they were on. Our family had a stillborn baby just a month before their daughter's diagnosis. As our family healed from this tragedy, they continued to face theirs on a daily basis. Unlike the adjustment of a new baby or a bout with the flu, childhood diseases usually have very long, complicated, and disruptive treatment plans. While we were moving on with our lives, our friends were facing juggling multiple weekly doctor's appointments, drug regimes, balancing carpool, homework and activities with their older children, and still needing to eat and get laundry done in between.
When I received an email asking for volunteers for a spring break retreat for families facing pediatric cancer, we knew our family should go. We had been wanting to find a mission trip that we could do as a family (not easy when you have 5 children under age 10), and upon further investigation, this was a perfect fit. Now we have been on 6 week-long retreats designed to provide families who are in the midst of a life-altering childhood illness the rest and refreshment they so desperately need.
Each volunteer family is paired with a retreat family so they can get to know one another and so each family is lovingly cared for. During the week, each adult is on a meal team to prepare and clean up from family-style meals, we do a nightly turn-down service for our family complete with chocolates and sweet dreams notes, we help do their laundry and tidy up their condo. The children help with cooking and cleanup as they are able and assist families by helping serve plates and drinks, but their main job is to play with all the retreat children. We have an activity period each morning when the children choose between sports, arts & crafts, cooking, or newspaper. While the retreat adults are in a small group sharing their stories, the rest of us are having fun! We meet back for lunch and afternoon activities (shark fishing, beach games, pool time). Dinner is always themed and fun - pirate night, red white and Blue Skies night with a parade, luau and pool olympics, and fiesta night. We start the day with worship together on the beach and the volunteers end it with another worship time and recap of the day.
The idea of the retreat was summed up by our oldest daughter when she said,"I think the point of the retreat is to teach us that we should treat our own family as well as we are treating our retreat family this week." Wise words by an 8 year old! Our family has seen the positive effect that a week of rest and fun family time can have on families who have been spending time stressed and apart. We have also seen how our family's prayer life has grown as we have added the concerns of these families facing real struggles to our own family's prayers. Our children still want to be first at things, still have sibling rivalry, and my husband and I don't always treasure every day like we wish we would. But having served, our family is stronger. We have seen how blessed we are and how fortunate we are to be able to serve and put ourselves and our needs behind those of someone else's.
There will be four retreats in 2011 and we need volunteers (singles, couples, and families are all welcome) as well as families who are dealing with a childhood disease and need a break.
All the information is online at www.whereskiesareblue.org. Come and join us "where skies are Blue!"
Can you hear the joy in Ella's story? No surprise, "if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." (1 John 4:12)
What can you do "for love" today?