Hey y'all! I'm Mindy and Melanie also asked me to give you my take on the Retreat last weekend. Now I could tell you that it was a fabulous weekend full of great projects and even greater people. I could tell you that the BAH is indeed gorgeous and that somehow Melanie has managed to make even rooms with two story ceilings seem downright cozy. I could tell you about her fabulously funny posse of friends and the gracious and lovely Jin Jin. I could tell you about the hilarious antics of Ellie Sue, the heart squeezing sweetness of Gabbi or how perfectly Chocolate Thunder...aka Lizzie...fits into their family. But Riley and Susan have told you all of that so I am going to tell you a different story about what this retreat meant to me and why if you are even THINKING of going to the next one you should start planning now.
When Mo started talking about these Art Retreats I was very impatient for her to get the ball rolling. Finally I said just DO IT. Set a date and they will come. The beds will get built and the sheets will get bought and the food will get cooked. Let's DO this. You see...I felt this retreat was kinda gonna bring things full circle for me in a way. I "met" Melanie, Jake and the whole Raborn-Massey clan online in either late 2005 or earlier 2006 much the same way most of you did. Only we had met the people who knew somebody.....who knew somebody....who knew the Raborn's because my best friend Stephanie's daughter, Dani, was in treatment herself. Dani was diagnosed with Lymphoma in August of 2005 just one week shy of her 1st birthday. It was so inspiring to read about a family walking the same cancer path my friend was walking and see them do it with such tremedous BELIEF and JOY. We fell in love with that little round face just like most of you. Melanie told their story in a very real way and the fact that she shared the same enthusiasm for art as me and Steph was just a bonus.
By early 2006 Dani was in remission but still finishing her protocol. Stephanie went back to work and I kept Dani in my home everyday except Tuesday-Chemo day. We spent each day in my living room in our big blue chair watching Dora and Blue and trying to find something she of which she would eat more than a bite or two at a time. She entered the harshest phase of her treatment that would hopefully eradicate any lurking cancer cells and keep the beast from returning. Sadly, a common virus coupled with her compromised immune system due to chemo took her from us on March 7, 2006. We were devastated. This just wasn't supposed to happen.
Just a few days after Dani's funeral Stephanie and I found ourselves at my dining room table hand stamping and coloring Thank You cards with turtles on them because we couldn't find turtle cards to purchase anywhere. Soon we found ourselves knee deep in "art" and making anything we could think of to make. My wonderful husband just smiled as bit by bit we transformed the guestroom in my home into our very own art studio. It was in that room that we painted. We cut and glued and glittered. We talked and laughed and cried. And sometimes we just sat because there was nothing left to say and no tears left to cry. Looking back I can see now that it was also in those days that we began to change. Even kind of began to heal. Stephanie from the devastation of losing her precious baby and me from the heartbreak of watching my friend suffer this loss and knowing there was absolutely nothing I could do but be there. I don't think anybody every really completely heals from this sort of loss but I do think you find a way to cope. To begin to live in your new reality. Minute by minute with each stroke of the brush and bottle of glitter.......art really did change our lives and help Stephanie begin to find a way to live in that new normal.
All during this time we were praying along with all of you for baby Jake. When he joined Dani in heaven in October it was heartbreaking. Stephanie knew all too well the road Stacy and Don were now about to travel and I knew all too well the helplessnesss felt by their family and friends because there truly is nothing you can do to make it better. I met Melanie in person briefly for the first time at the cemetary following Jake's funeral service. Stephanie and I joined them that December in Memphis to cheer TEAM JAKE through the St. Jude marathon. More healing. It has been an absolute joy to see all that has occured in their lives in the last five years. Seeing the way Melanie has also worked her art into making a difference in the lives of cancer patients by all the things she does for JOR is amazing. There is some healing there. To finally spend the weekend creating with this family was inspiring.
Melanie is a truly gifted artist but I believe her true passion lies in sharing that gift with others. If you look at all the wonderful art on the blog and think, "I'd like to do that" stop thinking about it and sign up for the next retreat. I promise you that you won't regret it. You will meet new friends that you will want to keep in contact with forever. You will get to meet those precious girly girls. You will see what people living every day with JOY even after the most devastating tragedy look like. You will see this blog come to life and that Melanie really does keep it real when she tells you that Ellie can change into a pair of shorty shorts faster than you can blink!
So even if you have little interest in art and just want to meet the clan or even if you think you can't draw a straight line with a ruler I can tell you that if you go you will lose your inhibitions and in the now famous words of Mo.....UNPUCKER YOUR BUTT....and just DO art. Yes, you will leave with lots of fun finished projects but you will also learn that there is just as much if not MO'Joy in the process. I think that is what I love most about Melanie. She gets that. Just like life...with all of it's ups and downs.....art isn't always about perfection. It is about what you learn along the way.