Last week, my family joined dozens of others in hosting nine families battling pediatric cancer for a week-long beach camp here on St. Simons through a ministry called Blue Skies. The following story about Blue Skies was written by my wife, Maryellen and recently appeared in the Brunswick News.
“I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which He is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us - yes, the many good things He has done for (His people), according to his compassion, according to the abundance of His steadfast love.” - Isaiah 63:7
If you follow my husband’s writings, you have likely heard us speak of the purpose and impact of Blue Skies pediatric cancer family camps. Many of you may also have seen the myriad of pictures streaming across social media last week, giving snapshots into our varied activities. There were certainly many smiles and fun experiences that lifted these sweet families above the clouds of childhood cancer for at least a short time. But more than just planned events and activities, the ministry of Blue Skies brings each participant, whether patient, guest, or volunteer, a much deeper and very personal encounter with the goodness of God in the midst of their trials and tribulations, and we are so blessed to be a part of it.
The very first guest family that excitedly arrived was actually a family that came to Blue Skies last summer as well: a single mom who at the time was facing a terminal diagnosis of her 15-year-old son. At last year’s camp, the boy was barely able to participate in any activities due to his illness; he was frail, exhausted, and we volunteers focused on helping him achieve his “bucket list” while with us, expecting him to return home to hospice care after camp. I remember wildly rejoicing while watching him fly past the lighthouse in a private airplane flown by one of our volunteers, as his friends waved and cheered from Neptune pool, and I was praying SO hard for his miraculous healing. He got a special ride in a harbor pilot boat, we brought his meals to his room, and didn’t see much more of him before we said goodbye.
A few months later, I received a completely unexpected text from a Blue Skies staff member - it was a picture of that very same boy - now 30 pounds heavier, healthy, smiling bright, and all dressed up for a dance at his school! What a wonderful surprise - and also a confirmation of what we should all, as Christians, believe to be possible! One year later, his mother bounds back into Sea Palms with a brightness in her face and her two healthy boys in tow. I felt like my week had already been made perfect - and the camp had not even begun! At the end of the week, after watching this family actually get to enjoy all of the activities of camp, I hugged his mother and let her know I have been praying for her son all year. She shared with me that his doctors were literally “baffled” when he started recovering after last summer. She encouraged me to “keep up the prayers” because she was SURE that was what was healing him - the intercession of prayer warriors and the healing power of God in response.
So if that’s how the week started - with such a miraculous display of the goodness of God - just imagine how the rest of the week went! As we expected, our Golden Isles SHINED through the support and generosity of many local businesses, friends, and donors. Sea Palms yet again did a fantastic job hosting our special group of 150 guests and volunteers, one of the staff even offered a pool-side martial arts presentation, rock painting crafts, and basically all bending any way we needed them to accommodate us. We were fed by great places like CJ’s Pizza, Sandy Bottom Bagels, Chick Fil A, Southern Soul, and the amazing crew from Crabdaddy’s for our final meal at Village Creek Landing. Everywhere we went, Blue Skies was well received, and the camp inspired last-minute donations of services and funds. We cannot be more proud and thankful for the support of our amazingly warm and loving community!
Each morning we gathered in a meeting space and experienced amazing worship led by Tasha Layton (a top Christian pop artist!) whose voice and vulnerability lifted us ALL to a higher place. After camp songs and scriptures, we were all blessed by inspirational teaching by a volunteer camp pastor. His daily lessons spoke very personally to the difficult journey these families are on, pointing us all to lean on Jesus as our source of strength, our stronghold in the storms, our rescuer, and our hope. Our last chapel meeting included communion and group prayer for each of the families, surrounded by their support team that was built throughout the week. Each family was loved on, cried with, prayed for, and blessed.
The “spiritual” activity of the week was not limited to those morning meetings, however. The love and hand of God was constantly evident in many varied ways, through the hearts and actions of so many people. I watched a first time volunteer pour herself out physically to aid a disabled 5-year old who wanted to walk - incessantly - up and down the beach, around the pool, in the movie theater - and at the end of the week, she posted on Facebook how amazingly blessed and thankful she was to be able to serve such a dear family. I watched a Blue Skies staff member literally get hit (hard!) in the face with a beach umbrella flying in the wind - and as she sat recovering, bleeding, holding an ice bag to her eye, she stated, “I am SO glad it hit me and not the (Blue Skies kid) I was standing there talking to!” Local volunteers popped in to give boat rides, donate golf carts, and had a huge cake made. We watched as the weather forecast predict rain all week, but “somehow” the storms were all around us yet always seemed to miss our outdoor activities - right down to the final parade on Thursday evening, when the rain STOPPED, literally, right at “go-time”...
Ahh, the parade. There can be no sweeter display of the love of Christ than a community of friends and strangers that take the time to make homemade signs, some complete with the kids’ names on them, lining the streets to cheer on these weary families. Sea Palms residents waited in their driveways with chairs and umbrellas - dogs (and bulldogs!) - kids, parents, and elders alike. The Glynn Academy cheerleaders and Pirates of the Spanish Main rounded the corner by Bennies Red Barn - all of these iconic of the warm spirit of Glynn County. Local policemen ushered us into the beautiful landscape of Village Creek Landing, and siblings and patients were awarded as heroes. Just after dinner, a full, orange moon rose out of the eastern marsh to everyone’s delight. Lord, could you have made a more obvious display of your love, your presence, and your blessing on these families??
Oh wait—Yes He can... Before the amazing fireworks and after our delicious shrimp dinner, Tasha Layton gave us an intimate sharing of her walk with the Lord, her testimony that inspired some of her most famous songs (“Look What You’ve Done”, “Into the Sea”, etc). While she was speaking, I noticed across the room one of our most beautiful, loving, and joy-filled guests was sitting intently, holding hands with the black-and-blue eyed staff member that had taken the umbrella to the face earlier that day - and she was singing. She was singing along with Tasha, first to “Look What You’ve Done For Me” and finishing with “Goodness of God”. Unabashedly and unashamed, she was singing out her praise and thanks to the Lord. A young lady with cancer, physical disabilities; I cannot even fathom a fraction of her challenges. Yet her joy, love and praise was so pure, so true - and she was singing it loud and proud for the world to hear: just look what You’ve done. All my life You have been faithful, and with every breath that I am able, I will sing of the goodness of God.
I join this precious young lady in thanks and praise to God for who He is and how my family has witnessed Him move in this ministry and through our community. Participating in Blue Skies for the last 5 years has profoundly impacted our entire family. Our sons have grown in their compassion and desire to serve others, and we have seen miracles and wonders - in the physical, spiritual, and emotional healing of our guests. Through Blue Skies, God has ordained a fellowship among these families on kindred journeys, and imparted a deep love for others among those that have served and supported. Again we offer our sincere gratitude to the Golden Isles for helping Blue Skies share the love and care of Jesus with His beloved children here in our hometown.
For more information about Blue Skies pediatric cancer family camps, visit: www.blueskiesministries.org