Friday, May 10, 2019

The Origin of While We're Waiting (The Finale)

This post is #200 in a series ... This is the final entry in a series of posts sharing our family's experiences during and following our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire was to process through the events of that period from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really.  But I've been honored and humbled by how many of you have followed these posts over the past 15 months.  I really can't express in words how grateful I am that God has allowed us the privilege of seeing how He has used Hannah's life to touch others.  Thank you for being a part of that.

Read Part One
Read Part Two
Read Part Three
Read Part Four
Read Part Five
Read Part Six
Read Part Seven
Read Part Eight

On the evening we found out that Hannah had a brain tumor, our dear neighbor and retired pastor Brother Gerald Taylor shared Nahum 1:7 with us:  "The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.  He cares for those who trust in Him."  We clung to that verse throughout her year-long battle with cancer, and it now hangs over the door of the While We're Waiting Refuge for Bereaved Parents.

The entire building project was completed in October 2016, a little over two years from the day we starting digging the ditch for the water line.  By God's grace, and with the help of countless volunteers, generous financial donations, and gifts of building materials and supplies, it was completed (and beautifully furnished!) for less than $500,000 -- debt free.

I must share a few pictures so you can see how beautiful it is ...

We had our first retreat at the Refuge in October of 2016, and it was such a blessing to see how each area met the need for which we had designed it.  The meeting area ("Lifesong Room") was comfortable and made our attendees feel at home, the guest rooms were quiet and cozy, the sitting room and deck areas allowed for fellowship and conversation, and the dining room and kitchen were perfect for their purposes.  It was such a confirmation that God's hand was all over this place.

After the completion of the Refuge, we were able to host our retreats much more frequently.  We began to schedule 2-3 events per month, on average.  Even with these added dates, however, we struggled to keep up with the growing demand, and many grieving parents were still waiting a year to get in to an event.  

So God began to raise up people to meet the need.  He brought two couples back into our lives who had each attended retreats when WWW was just beginning, and gave them the desire to step in alongside us and host additional retreats at the Refuge ... allowing us to add more dates at this location without spreading ourselves too thin.  He brought us a couple from Oregon who was willing to begin hosting WWW Weekends in the Pacific Northwest, and we had our first retreat at Ochoco Christian Conference Center in April of 2018.  He recently brought us another couple from Maryland who is willing to begin hosting WWW Weekends on the East Coast, and we will be hosting our first retreat at NorthBay Adventure Camp in August of 2019.  He's brought us some wonderful ladies who have been willing to host Mini-Retreats for Moms in both northeast and northwest Arkansas.  And, He has raised up another couple who has started hosting WWW Weekends with a marriage focus specifically for bereaved parents at our Arkansas and Oregon locations.

We understand that there are bereaved parents who will never come to Arkansas, Oregon, or Maryland to attend a full-weekend or full-day retreat ... but if a 2-hour monthly support group meeting were available in their area, they might be interested in participating in that.  We've been blessed to have people from across the country attend our events and then go back to their hometowns and start support groups in their local areas.  

These support groups differ from other well-known grief support groups in two ways:  1) Attendance is limited just to parents who have lost children; and 2) They are unashamedly faith-based.  Those who attend receive Biblically-based encouragement and enjoy fellowship with other bereaved parents.  They leave each meeting a little better equipped to live well while they're waiting to be reunited with their children one day. 

While We're Waiting "By the Numbers":

* Since our first retreat in April 2011, there have been 99 WWW events around the country, including our full-weekend retreats, our mini-retreats for moms, and our dads' days.

* 660 bereaved parents have attended our events over the past eight years.

* These parents have attended our events from 29 different states and Canada.

* Currently, there are 30 WWW support groups meeting around the country -- in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas ... and one in Australia.  New groups are being added all the time!

I don't share these numbers to bring attention to the four of us co-founders of WWW ... I share them to give glory to the God who provided the vision, the funding, and the volunteers to make all of this possible.  We just feel blessed to be along for the ride ... and excited about where God is going to take us next!  

And to think this all began when a 16-year-old girl prayed for a storm ...

Thank you for following along over the past fifteen months of posts!  You've been a blessing!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Origin of While We're Waiting (Part 8)

This post is #199 in a series ... Through this series of posts I plan to share our family's experiences during and following our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire is to process through the events of that period from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really. But if you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to join me.

Read Part One
Read Part Two
Read Part Three
Read Part Four
Read Part Five
Read Part Six
Read Part Seven

For three years, we had wonderful bereaved-parent retreats at Family Farm.  As awareness began to grow about the ministry via word-of-mouth, internet searches, and our Facebook presence, our waiting lists also began to grow.  Even with adding more retreat dates at other locations, we could no longer keep up with the demand for these events.

And as wonderful as Family Farm is, it was not an ideal location for the types of retreats we were hosting.  After all, it was a children's camp ... complete with bunk rooms filled with bunk beds.  Do you remember those plastic-y mattresses at the church camp you went to when you were a kid?  The ones that creak and rustle every time you roll over?  Yeah, that's what we were sleeping on.  And because they were bunk rooms, husbands and wives had to sleep separately.  Definitely not ideal for a grieving parent retreat.  Family Farm is also a very busy place, and was only available to us twice a year.

So we began to consider some other options.  The ultimate solution would be to have our own retreat facility ... a place where we could host as many events as we needed to, where our attendees could enjoy the privacy of their own rooms and feel comfortable and at home from the moment they walked in the door.

Our partners in this ministry, Larry and Janice Brown, owned a house out in the country on the outskirts of town.  They had lived in it for a few years when their kids were in college, but then decided they wanted to move back into town.  They had hung on to the house all those years, but it had fallen into disrepair.  But maybe, just maybe, we could use it somehow.

One evening, the four of us drove out to that property to look it over and consider whether or not it could be transformed into a retreat center.  To be honest, it was really hard to see the potential ...

... but before we left, we prayed in the driveway, turning the entire project over to God and making a commitment to seek His will regarding whether we should move forward.

We had had a website for a few years at this point with a clearly marked "Donate Now" button, and up until that time we had received zero donations ever from this source.  None.  Nada.  Zilch.  When I got home that evening and checked my email, I discovered that during the hour we were walking around this property, we had received two donations through our website for a total of $900!

No one knew what we were doing that evening.  No one knew that we were even considering taking on a building project of this magnitude.  But God knew ... and we took those donations as confirmation that we were moving in the right direction.

A friend of ours got us connected with an architect who donated his time and drew up a plan for our dream retreat center.  The facility would incorporate the existing house, adding a large dining room, a commercial kitchen, and ten private guest rooms, each with its own bathroom.  No more bunk beds with creaky plastic mattresses or shared bathrooms!

This gentleman created a beautiful concept drawing and presented it to us one snowy Sunday afternoon.

It was everything we could have dreamed of!  After we reviewed all the aspects of the drawing with him, we asked him what he thought it would cost to build this amazing building.  He cleared his throat and said, "You'll probably want to sit down."  We dutifully took our seats, and he broke the news:  "A million dollars.  I believe it will cost about a million dollars just to construct the building.  Then you'll have to finish it out and furnish it."

Have I mentioned that we don't charge for our retreats?   Because of this fact, we had a grand total of $3,000 in our WWW bank account at the time, including the $900 that had been donated the night we prayed out at the property.  The thought of coming up with a million dollars was beyond imagination.

The four of us took a ride out to Family Farm a few days later and spent some time visiting with Stan and Donna May (better known by the locals as Daddy and Mama May) who operate Family Farm.  They had been our partners in this ministry from the very beginning and we knew they would have some godly wisdom for us.  We showed them the concept drawing and explained that we were in need of at least $997,000.

We had made a commitment early on in this process that we would not go into debt to build this facility.  We explained to the Mays that we would have to do some very serious fundraising before we could even start ... something the four of us felt extremely ill-equipped to do.  We acknowledged that we would probably be waiting a long time before beginning this project.

I will never forget what Mama May had to say in response to that:  "Oh, no ... You don't wait.  You start!  God will provide what you need."  When she said those words, we knew she was right.  It was time to step out in faith and trust God to provide.

So we did.  In September of 2014, Brad and Larry started digging a water line from the road to the house ... we had enough money for that!  We had agreed that we would just do what we could do until we ran out of funds, and then we'd just stop until God provided some more.

As the months passed, we watched in awe as God provided volunteers, donors, equipment, building materials, and funds.  Not only did we never have to stop, we never even had to slow down!

The slabs were poured for the dining room/kitchen area and the ten guest rooms ... and the first wall was raised on September 13, 2015.  Five days later we had a "Dedication Day" and invited everyone we knew, especially people who had attended one of our WWW retreats at Family Farm, to come out and see the building project and join us in a prayerful time of dedication.  Bereaved parents were invited to write their children's names or favorite Scriptures on the studs.  There were enough people there to completely encircle the guest room slab and as we dedicated the facility to the Lord, we prayed for all the moms and dads who didn't even know at that time that they would ever need a facility like this one.

It was a day I will never forget!

To be continued ...