When I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at 28 years old with three very young children, the only thing I ever thought about or wanted was to make meaningful and fun memories with my children and husband that were full of joy. During my year of very hard cancer treatment, I would sit in the infusion chair and think “all I want to do is be with my kids.” It felt impossible to ever think I would be able to go to Orlando with my family. The Legacy RetreatⓇ was a dream come true for me, my husband, and our three kids. We spent that time focused on each other…not scary cancer, not worrying about money or all the other hard things cancer brings on for a young metastatic breast cancer patient. We had the most wonderful and magical time. When I think about our retreat, those who served us, and everyone that made it possible for our family to be there, it makes me cry and feel so much gratitude for angels on earth.
Inspirational Christian Writings
In May 2017, when we had a big Legacy Retreat in Orlando, I got to know one of the families, the House family, pretty closely. We had four days with the House family, and they flew by like they always do. We do these retreats trusting that the impact is not only for four days but goes far beyond that, and with this family, I got to see that lasting impact in a powerful way. Matt House died less than two months after the Legacy Retreat, and there were memorial services in Texas where he lived and Minnesota where he grew up, and I was able to go to the Minnesota one. And what a funeral experience it was!
As a new or experienced volunteer, the days leading up to a Legacy Retreat can be quite nerve-wracking. There is a lot of information to read through prior to the retreat and then abundantly more poured at you during the volunteer meeting (the night before families arrive). Beyond all that information, I knew this devotion would also be good to deliver.
I was inspired to do this devotion from a sermon my pastor, Brandon Bruce (Church Experience), gave back in February of this year. I actually wrote “IoH Devotion” on my sermon notes and held on to these, you know, in case I ever actually got the courage to give a devotion. I kept it all this time waiting for the right time to share, and God made it abundantly clear to me that now is the time.
On my sermon notes, I wrote several things, but there are three I want to share with you. If you remember nothing else from this devotion, please remember this:
A year ago today, in some muggy Tennessee heat, our family was gathering in Knoxville to get ready for the wedding of my brother and his lovely bride. This was a very celebratory time, both for the occasion and for the chance to see so many friends and family. It was the day before the rehearsal, and we heard that Ryan Hurst Carter, a good friend of our family, was in a car accident… and died. Boom. Just like that. He was a 27-year-old bundle of energy who never met a stranger because he was so convinced that God loves all those strangers.
Of course at the wedding we celebrated and had a great time, but it was a stinging reminder that death is always lurking, that in this life even the high moments of new beginnings full of hopes for a bright future cannot be separated from realities that crush hopes.
I want to applaud our volunteers and staff for doing so many things well. One of the hardest things to do is to create a place for grief to be shared without needing to "fix" it. I've seen it happening throughout Legacy Retreats. Here is our challenge in the words of Glennon Doyle Melton (Love Warrior - 2016, Part III, Chapter 12):
"We think our job as humans is to avoid pain, our job as parents is to protect our children from pain, and our job as friends is to fix each other’s pain. Maybe that’s why we all feel like failures so often—because we all have the wrong job description for love... People who are hurting don’t need Avoiders, Protectors, or Fixers. What we need are patient, loving witnesses. People to sit quietly and hold space for us. People to stand in helpless vigil to our pain.... (I'm committed to being) that kind of friend. I’ll show up and stand humble in the face of another person’s pain.
There’s something about childhood that, even in old age, people find reassuring. The nostalgia and sweet memories of looking back at a simpler time in your life are priceless, and remain treasures for a lifetime. So, often times, when people imagine a 12-year-old spending her entire young life watching her Mom battle cancer, the first thought is one of sadness and sympathy. I admit, such a reaction likely would have been my initial one as well, except that when I reflect on my childhood, doom and gloom weren’t major characters, despite my Mom’s liver cancer. Although there were certainly sad times, they were fewer than many seem to think. Perhaps I am too far removed from my own life’s experience (my Mom died a little over five years ago), but as I reminisce now it seems to me that there was far more joy in my childhood than even I might have expected.
When God dwelled over the tabernacle in Numbers 9:15-23, the Israelites “obeyed the Lord’s order.” When the cloud lifted, they broke camp and set out. When the cloud remained, they stayed put and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud remained over the tabernacle for a long time, and the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. “Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle for just a few days, and at the Lord’s command they would encamp and then at his command they would set out.” (v. 20)
I can’t help but imagine the logistics of this flexibility on the part of the Israelites. As a mom with 4 children, I think about all that goes into packing for a trip. Each member of my family has items they need: clothes, shoes, food, blankets, etc. It is stressful packing and managing the items needed for a family going on a trip, so I can’t even begin to imagine when the packing and planning involved everything families own, including livestock and food preparation material and seed and grain. If I knew the date and time that this move was going to take place it would be hard enough, but to set up camp, my home, without any clue how long we would be staying would be so difficult.
John and I were married March 12th, 2009. Less than five years later, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, something we certainly hadn’t planned for or wanted at the time. However, because of ALS, we were introduced to Inheritance of Hope and received the great gift of a Legacy Retreat. Less than two years after our retreat, though, on March 26th of 2016, John passed away.
Since his death, I have loved serving other IoH families, and at the May 2017 Legacy Retreat, I met Tom, another volunteer. He came on the first retreat in 2008 with his family, and his wife Shannon passed away shortly after. He, too, understood terminal illness, the loss of a spouse, and single parenting grieving children. He, too, had experienced a failed marriage as a result of not following Christ. He, too, had two boys with complicated pasts, and the older with behavioral struggles. And, he also lived in the Carolinas, but he lived in the wrong one. Though only a little over an hour away, he lived near the lakes of upstate South Carolina, whereas my home was in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina. To say this difference was a concern would be a great understatement.
At the start of this year, the youth ministry director at my church gathered all of the middle school small group leaders. He wanted to check in on how we were, hear how our groups were going, and encourage us. He shared how, when he has worked at Christian camps, everything is designed to help kids experience great moments, “highs,” and you have a very focused time with each group of kids to bring those highs about. In contrast, in congregational ministry, there are many distractions, and kids often are weighed down by day-to-day concerns.
Each type of ministry has its challenges, but how do you handle all the distractions and burdens kids bring week after week and month after month? Our youth director had wise words. He said you love the kids, let them know how much God loves them, welcome them with all their challenges, and pour yourself out for them. Then, when you get home at the end of the day, you cry with hope.
Cry with hope! What a beautiful phrase to express the hardness and goodness of Christian ministry. We cry because there is so much pain even as we hope because God is good. Cry with hope is an especially fitting expression for the ministry of Inheritance of Hope.
Oftentimes when we are at a Legacy Retreat, it seems difficult to pinpoint emotions. Have you felt that? Maybe this is your first time serving, and you have all sorts of thoughts swirling around in your head about what to expect. Or, maybe we’ve done this a time or two and yet... we still have expectations of how it will go or how we WANT it to go.
And then there’s the task of going back home trying to recap a retreat... people may say, ”So, how was it?!” And you might struggle to find the words to explain exactly what happens here. “It was SOO good, but SO sad, but SO fun, and SOO heart-wrenching.” And we become caught in these hugely conflicting emotions. How do you pinpoint or even summarize what exactly you’re feeling as we walk with these families ?