We went straight to the beach.
We drove 17 hours, with stops, all through the night, got to the resort, parked, and went straight to the beach. We couldn't check in yet, so we all changed in the car, lathered on sunscreen, and walked to the ocean.
I felt as if I knew what our week at Lighthouse would be like, since we went last year. But each set of people are so unique that you feel different at the end... I learned new things and came away with an assortment of emotions from similar experiences. It is all very surreal.
Last year, I said that going to LFR was like fixing a broken cup. This year, I don't feel like it was healing that happened. This time, it wasn't needed, almost. I still feel refreshed... new... but being a year further along in our journey, having to re-start chemo after being off treatment last summer, the rise and fall of emotions during those new pieces of our story... I packed all of that into my suitcase. I took all of that experience, all of those feelings, and our same family on this retreat again. This time, though, I walked away feeling full of other things. I felt so... purposeful. I walked away with such an immense feeling of togetherness and hope. I was reminded how this life is like the ocean. It flows in and out, waves high and low. You ride each one that comes and get washed away, stand up and get splashed in the face, or a combination of both.
The drive down wasn't too bad. We left about 9pm and swapped drivers at about midnight or so. After a few hours of me showing off my late night dance moves to whoever happened to open their eyes in the car, EJ took back over and drove us the rest of the way, stopping only to go to small town grocery stores and gas stations to stretch our legs and buy food we didn't need or trinkets that left smiles on troublemakers.
When we got to the beach this first time, it was as if a weight was lifted. We were finally here. We covered legs in sand and pretended to be mermaids, I ran them into the ocean - protests of fear turned into giggles of delight within a few seconds of salt water.
We went to the tent around 5pm and met our family partners, leaders, friends... We were taken to an amazing house (which later was changed - only to be a blessing bc they moved us the closest possible to the pools/ocean). We took showers, got ready, and headed down to the beach for dinner. It was time to get to know each other. I, again, trusted my children to play with these wonderful families - running into the water, jumping waves, eating dinner, and belly laughing. Day 1 was perfect.
The next morning, and every one after that, we'd wake up and get ready to head to breakfast, worship, and to split from our kids as they went to "flip flop" and we went to "common grounds". They played with their new best friends - swimming, crafts, games, tennis, cuddles, anything...
But we were able to spend a few hours with the other retreat families. We heard everyone's story, we cried together, we cried telling our own stories, and we cried again listening to others. I laughed with the other families and hugged each of them across the room. We had 4 truths for the week. Four things that we talked about and focused on: rest, experiencing joy, restoring relationships, and finding hope.
I could go into essay-like detail about each one. We all knew how much rest was needed. We shared the places we find joy - the in between moments that make our heart swell. We divulged how it felt to lose friends along the journey, how some cut out family, and how the relationships that had stayed constant, or were a part of the journey now, are so absolutely crucial to life. We talked about hope - where it comes from, how it can be stripped away, even if for a moment, with a simple trigger of fear. A group of people with similar stories, all able to teach one another something new. It was an hour of heavy chatting laced with light laughter. There were laughs so hearty that it brought me to tears and tears so strong that it was hard to laugh.
Tuesday was the luau. After an afternoon of rest (and a bit of pool time), we headed to the tent for food, dancing, and then poker night for the dads. Every day I thought "this day is the best". But then a new day would come and supersede that.
Day 3's afternoon was filled with beach time and then date night. I watched my kids play, take naps in the tent, get frustrated about the sand, and laugh at EJ's shark stories. Then later that night, we made absolutely amazing friends with people who live states away. We shared stories, talked openly (lol), and that type of feeling never gets old. While we were out, our amazing family partners hung out with the girls at our place and then took them to an "unbirthday party" filled with balloons and cake and dancing and joy. We came home to nail painted sweet babies in cozy pjs. Their mouths moving a mile a minute as they told us stories of things that happened while we were gone those few hours.
The next morning, I woke up and took Reese and Miller to look for shells. Rise and shine, my sweet babies. It was obvious that I had woken them up early when afternoon hit - it was our day to do "nothing". Day 4 marked the first day of naps (minus corbin who fell asleep wherever necessary), our return trip to seaside and frostbites, and another whole evening at the beach. There were meltdowns because of heat, laughter because of sandcastles, exhaustion because of every minute spent doing something. Every emotion heightened by the underlining feeling of joy. We talked at common grounds about how the feeling of joy is so strong in the little things after you have felt the feelings of the valley of desperation... of fear... of such utter sadness. When you are on the other side of that, every minuscule giggle is a gift and a blessing
At the end of the night, Aidan and I went to worship service at the tent - we sang, we prayed, we felt each other's presence. I honestly had been waiting for that hour all week and it was everything. Some of my favorite worship songs mean something so different when you are in it. They mean so much more when you are sitting with people who truly love and care about you - which you know for fact because of the way you feel about them.
Friday was bittersweet. So many feelings about it being the last full day with everyone - but so grateful that we were here.
The last day of common ground was about finding hope.
"May the God of hope fill you with all the joy and peace as you trust in him." Romans 15:13
We prayed that this was true for each of the families as we left to go home the next morning. We prayed it for ourselves - for our spouses. Finding hope, seeing joy, and feeling peace are the absolutely 3 hardest things to do when faced with the things that brought us together. But it says, oh so simply in that Romans verse, that God can do that for us.
and He did. Then and now.
We spent one last afternoon in the sun and the salt water. We spent free time with our family partners, their amazing children, the friends and leaders of our children... all of us together making final memories.
Lastly, we walked the red carpet, ate dinner and dessert, and sat down for the talent show of the summer (lol). The girls were in hysterics as the moms had to do a burping competition. They cheered EJ on as he showed off his dance skills. I clapped and hollered for each kid and their amazing talent and pride. We watched a final slide show underneath a dark tent... and then it ended. We left to finish packing and think about the last hours before our "see ya later" the next morning.
The next morning, I took A and S out for sunrise shell searching. Aidan didn't appreciate the early morning splashes ;) Sawyer jumped waves as she usually does. We got back and waited for our sweet new friends to help us load the car up and hold back tears of goodbye for now.
I, of course, wrote them all letters of gratitude. I tried to put into words how much I appreciated them - their help, their unconditional love, their peace and laughter, their hugs and confidence. They listened, they prayed. Another year of the best family partners around - another year of missing people that I only knew for a week. We hugged necks and piled into the car for our long drive home and it has taken me this long to (probably sloppily) put into words how full I am. We were led in common grounds by the most amazing hearts - and they put a fire in me that will return to LFR, next year, in one way or another - hopefully I can serve others the same way they have all served my family.