OK ya'll please bare with me on this. I know I tend to ramble. I have prayed about writing this and have really struggled because I want it to be perfect. I don't write something then read it again and make corrections. Please overlook the typos but I really want this to come straight from my heart.
Lighthouse - A source of guidance or inspiration. I have always loved Lighthouses. Last week I was asked what was my favorite vacation. I loved going on vacations when I was little. Our family would load up in our car early early in the morning and my daddy would drive us all the way to the beach. That wasn't my answer last week though. Last week my answer was before cancer. Before Michala was diagnosed with cancer, when we were in Boston before her surgery, we drove up the coast to Maine. That's where my answer ended. Later on I thought about that beautiful Lighthouse I got to see on the hill by the water, the waves hitting against the rocks. The Lighthouse stood tall and strong. Never bothered by the crashing waves. Last week we had the privilege to be housed in a Lighthouse. No it wasn't a physical lighthouse. It was much more than that. It was a lighthouse created my hearts and souls. It was created by people. These were not any people. These were volunteers. Volunteers that gave of their time, their family, their money, their hearts and their souls. These people were our lighthouse.
For several years now friends of ours have been telling us to go to The Lighthouse. They would describe it and immediately my body would shut down. I wasn't ready. I knew it had to be something I was ready for.
I had no idea what to expect except for what I read on the website http://www.lighthousefamilyretreats.com/ and what our friends had told us. Still no one could have told me what we were going to experience. There is no way I could have ever dreamed this. That's why I am afraid I will never get across what this meant to us. My words will not be able to paint this picture clear enough. Words cannot convey the vivid colors, the peace, the love or any of the things we experienced. Think of your most perfect day, your most wonderful vacation, your most special memory. Now put all those together and multiply them 100 times. Now you are coming close but you are still not there.
Well let's get started. We had a nice drive down there. The girls and I slept while Mike drove. Good thing because there is NOTHING between here and Santa Rosa beach. Oh did I leave that out? Yes it was on the beach. Wait it gets better!
We get there and as with anything new we really didn't know what to do. We knew where to go because there were signs every where. We pulled up and immediately we felt welcomed. Trish came up and hugged me. It was one of those real hugs. You know the kind. The kind that made me know right away we were in the right place, we were supposed to be here and at least I knew Trish was glad we were there. All of a sudden there are all these people around us. Not sure how many but lots. They were our family partners. At this point I am still not sure what they are going to do for us but I knew we were partners. Names were flying and I felt like I needed a note pad to take all this down. DONE! That was already taken care of. On a sheet of paper, which since I have lost, everything was typed out perfectly. Just to warn you this happened all week. All you had to do was think of something and it happened. Seriously! I am telling you this was definitely a God thing. No doubt about it.
Let me got back a minute. As we drove up we oohed and aahed because it was so beautiful. Right on the beach. Sand perfect! Weather perfect! Houses perfect!
So as I was standing there at registration I hear a voice I know. It was Jim Mac. He and his wife Kim have become dear to us. I was so relieved that they were there. You know comfort in knowing someone. I didn't realize I really did not need that this week cause in just a few minutes these strangers called our family partners were going to quickly become like family. After I hug Jim Mac and everyone laughs as we joke about not knowing each other Melanie comes up and we hug too. No I don't know Melanie. This is just something you do here I suppose. Of course I am a hugger so I love this.
While I am checking in Mike, the girls and our family partners go up to our house and get us unloaded. Everything is done by the time I get up to the house. I mean everything. They had already taken down a bed in one of our bedrooms to put the girls mat and blankets down.
It's time for lunch so we all walk down to lunch together. This is where things get blurry. Ya'll know that for 13 years my hands have been on Mary Elizabeth, pushing her wheelchair, carrying her, changing her diaper or feeding her. Well that changed. I don't really know when exactly. It wasn't a struggle. Nothing mayor. They didn't have to pry my hands off her wheelchair. Just a smooth transition. Instead of me losing my breath and struggling to breath, I took a deep breath and things became clear. I was me. I mean I was still wife and mommie but I was me. There was a me there. Not until then did I realize that that me was missing? This part is very hard for me to explain. Here was someone helping us, doing things for us, not because we asked, not because I broke down and cried and they felt sorry for me, but because they wanted to. This was not something that anybody made them do. They actually paid money or raised money to come and help us. They wanted to do this. OK I am still not over that part yet.
So as I ate there was someone getting Mary Elizabeth and Michala some mac & cheese. They said they would get mashed potatoes for them later. There was even yogurt there. Applesauce too. There was someone walking them around. Someone playing with Marlee Anne. OK I am already overwhelmed (in a good way!) with all this when Mike says look they even have a flip flop holder. You have to be there I guess but this is still so hilarious to me. It's so true! I mean they thought of everything! This beautiful girl walks up holding Marlee Anne's flip flops for her because she is playing in the sand. I even have a picture to prove it.
Next we have the opening. We learn The Lighthouse song which we haven't stopped singing yet. We meet MELINDA! I am still in awe over her. Would I have ever thought of this? No probably not! All I know is that I am so very glad that she did. This is one amazing person. Ever just meet someone that is so very humble but you know right away you are in the presence of God. That's Melinda! She has the most giving and genuine heart of anyone I have ever met.
Time for teams for beach olympics. Sounds like lots of fun. Good thing we are on the red team so that Mike's face matches it. He got embarrassed too many times for me to be able to name. We met our team members, made our flag, made up our cheer, performed it and then we were done.
Time for orientation for the parents. My daughters, my babies were going to be with people I had just met for the first time. I held Mike's hand and we walked to the other house without looking back. We told our family partners about the girls but that was throughout the past few hours. It wasn't something we sat down and had a meeting about. It was all so very comfortable. So very perfect! By the way our family partners do have names. I will introduce them to ya'll soon. For now let's call them our FPs. How's that?
We went into Common Grounds which is what our time with the other parents was called. We had two sets of counselors along with a dad. They liked to call themselves our chaperones. HA! As Eric began to welcome us and share his story I immediately knew he was one very special man. You know there are people you just long to hear more from. People who are uplifting as they share their stories. Then there was Ed and Char. Quiet and very peaceful spirits. Buck and Eleanor. We had heard about them. Mike had the opportunity to talk to Eleanor on the phone a couple of weeks back. Before the week was over Mike was wishing for an Eleanor in his life. Someone for me to strive to be like. We decide we could put up encouraging notes and posters all through the house. I do think he's an awesome man. I have told him that before. I guess once is not enough. Eleanor has to be one of the most uplifting people we had ever met. Buck was just fun in every way. I could not imagine anyone feeling uncomfortable around him. Me being the one that can talk to a brick wall had no problems with anyone. Mike was definitely at ease and had no trouble talking with Buck and Eleanor. Another God thing! You will quickly see this week was filled with God things.
We all introduced ourselves and our families. OH I forgot. At lunch a lady came up to me and said Kelli, I am Jane. Well about a month ago a friend introduced me by email to another mom that is doing a fundraising crop for Juvenile Diabetes. That mom, Tina said I know a family whose son has the same type of cancer as Michala. I was thinking wow because we have only met one other family whose child had the same type of cancer. The mom emails me and it's not the same type of cancer but a funny thing is that when I went to her son's website a picture of Michala was on the website. Well there she was at The Lighthouse. What a coincidence. LOL!!! I was so excited to meet her and her family. What a blessing!
So anyway back to Common Grounds. I am doing real good. We have been there at The Lighthouse for a few hours and I have not cried once. Real good for me ya'll know. Well they show a video to help us learn more about The Lighthouse (LH) and the tears flow. Well that was it. I was done! As parents shared more tears flowed. Lots of those tears were because I was still in shock and awe that we were there with these other families being showered with love.
That night we were having a luau. We went back to our house to get ready. Marlee Anne was briefly excited to see us. I think Mary Elizabeth was a little excited but Michala couldn't probably have cared any less. She was thrilled to have that one on one attention. I think the only time she sat down the entire weekend was when our FPs went back to their house, or when one of them was swinging with Michala in the swing on our back porch, while listening to the waves and seeing the beautiful beach.
It was really windy so we all decided Mary Elizabeth would stay in. Of course our family had increased in size by 7 more people so 4 of them were deciding who was going to get to stay. Not who would get stuck with staying but who would have the privilege of staying with our angel. That's truly how they felt.
Once that was decided the rest of us headed down to the beach. It was decorated wonderfully! The music was great! It's funny to me that when I look back and when we met some of these people for the first time you never knew what impact they would have on your lives in such a short amount of time.
The food was great! Hawaiian chicken, rice, fruit and a fabulous bean salsa stuff. I will have to share that recipe with ya'll. Lots of the food for the week was donated. Most of it by Chikfila. Pizza one night by Pizza Hut.
Michala was served her special mashed potatoes and mac & cheese. Of course after eating that she wanted some of our food. Once she got full off she went. Our FPs walked her and walked her. After we ate it was getting time for the girls meds so I took Michala back up to the house while Mike and Marlee Anne stayed down at the beach to enjoy the rest of the luau and dance.
Earlier in the day we got to meet the other two families leaving in the house with us. It was a huge house so we usually just saw each other in passing. It was nice when our paths crossed long enough to really visit with each other. No coffee in our house so Tom went over and got us some. After a wonderful cup of coffee and good nights to everyone I was left with my head full of thoughts and my heart even fuller. I laid in bed in awe over the day, anxious for what tomorrow would bring.
I will leave ya'll with that much for now. If you got this far thanks. Thanks for sharing this very special memory with us.