Introducing: Still Waters Cancer Retreat

Last month, I wrote about “My Summer of Cliff Jumping” and promised to share more about Still Waters Cancer Retreat, the nonprofit I’m starting. Today is World Lymphoma Awareness Day, “a day dedicated to raising awareness of lymphoma, an increasingly common form of cancer” {which sounds just like what you’d think it is}. This retreat isn’t just those for lymphoma, but because lymphoma is part of my story, I figured today’s a pretty good day to follow through on my promise. So here goes!

The American Cancer Society publishes its Cancer Facts and Figures report each year {which I keep in my iBooks app on my phone and which is totally normal, right?}, and basically, the rates of cancer have been pretty steady for a while. They estimate that 41/100 men and 38/100 women will get cancer in their lifetimes, not including basal or squamous cell carcinomas, since those aren’t required to be reported. Check out the link here, if you, too, are also semi-morbid and want to read through them: ACS Facts and Figures.

Basically, that’s a lot of people. 85% of cancer cases are still found in those 50 years or older, so that may be why some of you under that age group look around and can’t imagine that roughly 2 out of every 5 men and women around you have had or will have cancer.

I’ve now attended four different cancer conferences since moving to California two years ago, and each time I’ve left them, I’ve walked away with a heavy heart, overwhelmed by cancer, but more specifically overwhelmed by cancer patients, many of whom are so very lost and in need of eternal Hope.

For the record, I am 100% ready and happy to leave the cancer world. My lymphoma is gone, and if it returns, I’ll be a case study, I’m sure. It’s actually not that appealing to stay in the cancer world, given the depressing subject matter, the reminder at each of these conferences that long-term side effects are probably a lot scarier than I ever knew back in 2008, and the stigma attached {shoutout to health insurers, employers, and dates}. I would happily move on, washing my hands of cancer and never looking back, in case you think I have some Stockholm Syndrome-type need to keep torturing myself or “milk” the cancer card. {wrong.}

However, each time I’ve thought, “Okay, so I wrote the book, people who’ve needed it have gotten it, and it hasn’t been a best-seller or anything. Maybe it’s time to move on,” I’ve been sucked back into the cancer community—either through a family member or friend’s diagnosis or through attending a conference, meeting patients and survivors, and being reminded of the immense need people have for a larger narrative amidst a devastating diagnosis like cancer.

So, obediently, I’ll keep hanging out in the somewhat depressing and definitely anxiety-producing cancer community. I had this thought at the most recent conference, and I think it’s given me some clarity about my calling to this community:

For whatever reason, I had cancer, so I am part of the cancer community, a community which is immense (40% of Americans?!?), pretty lost, and yet also pretty open to talking about matters of faith.

I remember hearing Mark Cahill talk once about sharing the gospel and how he loved meeting military members and veterans because he found they were pretty open to talking about faith. He said that people who come face to face with their mortality tend to be pretty open to talking about what comes next, about eternity.

I’ve found that to be true in the cancer community as well, and so, back into the community I will go. For whatever reason, I have an “in” in this community {and that reason is called “I had cancer”}, so I’m going to do my best to bring hope where it’s needed and peace where questions abound.

A mentor and non-profit founder once told us he started his organization out of the idea that your passion plus your burden equals your vision. That’s stayed with me since high school, and my passion has shifted here and there over the years, and I think sometimes we have seasons of “vision” based on seasonal, or short-term, passions and burdens. One of my burdens is for those who know the truth but don’t get it, and since I’m passionate about literature and discipleship, teaching in a Christian school has equaled a meaningful vision for five years.

Now I find that gnawing at my heart, that inescapable idea that I’m supposed to be doing something about the cancer community which so needs Jesus and His hope, is facing mortality, and thus is pretty open to hearing about Him. I’m burdened by this, and who ever would have predicted I’d be passionate about it? Not me, but I am, and I have a heart for young adults going through cancer and dealing with survivorship issues as well as for their communities who walk through it with them. I’m looking forward to seeing how God continues to shape this vision, and I think there might be multiple facets to it.

The first facet is Still Waters Cancer Retreat. Our tagline is: “At the intersection of faith and cancer, Still Waters provides a space for those touched by cancer to process, connect, and worship.”

It’s open to anyone touched by young adult cancer: patients, survivors, siblings and family members, caregivers, and more. The three goals (processing, connecting, and worshipping) materialize in what I like to think of as a three-legged stool of sorts: 1 part cancer conference, 1 part church retreat, and 1 part summer camp.

The first part, cancer conference, stems from the idea that there are many topics worth covering and a lot of information those going through cancer or walking with someone through cancer may have questions about. Issues like survivorship, acute and long-term side effects, communication, struggling with doubt, and more come to mind, and the idea is that those will be covered in some breakout seminars during the days of the retreat.

The church retreat idea comes from the fact that there’s something important about corporate worship, so while the cancer information seminars are important, most important is framing those issues within the larger narrative of faith. Nightly worship with a speaker and a message which focuses on some of the larger issues of faith—not just about one aspect of cancer—is a critical element for bringing everyone together in fellowship and acknowledgement of the One who holds everything together.

Finally, the summer camp piece comes from my doctor’s encouragement to stay active and engaged in life during cancer and from some of the other cancer organizations’ encouragements to stay active or “get busy living” (shoutout to Stupid Cancer) or as active as possible, given the circumstances. I envision outdoor activities like morning runs along the ocean, surf lessons, stand-up paddleboarding, swimming, hiking, beach volleyball, and more—all of which are optional but fun ways of acknowledging that life keeps moving and is worth engaging in, despite cancer.

All of this will be at a place near the ocean or the water (hence, “Still Waters”) because there’s something healing about being by and in the ocean—not in some quasi-spiritual, new-age sense but in the sense that being by the ocean can be a helpful reminder of the vastness of God and His plans as well as His constancy despite the problems in our lives.

The name has a literal component, but it also points to Psalm 23, one of the Psalms that was really poignant during my cancer and during so many others’ experiences. David says that God “leads me beside the still waters; He restores my soul.” Later, he acknowledges, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” I felt those verses almost tangibly during cancer, or what I felt was like walking through my very own valley of the shadow of death. {And let’s be honest: “Still Waters Cancer Retreat” is a much better name than “Valley of the Shadow of Death Cancer Retreat.”} Even amidst the valleys, God is with us, and even then, He leads us beside the still waters and restores our souls.

The heart behind Still Waters is that, through connecting cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers at the crossroads between faith and cancer, hopefully the Lord will use this to restore the soul.

God has opened so many doors thus far, and I’m excited to see what more He continues to do in and through this. He’s brought some great people on board, and I’m excited to share more details about our team and about the retreat itself as they solidify!

This is new territory—I’ve never started a non-profit before—so I pray daily for God to equip me because I need it. And yet, in so many ways I can see how God has been preparing and equipping me for this, from my 15 summers at Kanakuk Kamps and my master’s degree in Christian Formation and Ministry: Bible, Theology, and Ministry, to all that writing and publishing a book has taught me about marketing, creating a website, stewarding my time well on a varying schedule, and charting uncharted waters. (Also, on the note of the website, check out the Still Waters logo created by the amazingly talented Lauren Wilhite, and then go look at her incredible website and art!)

One of the coolest doors God has opened is a partnership with a non-profit I found out about through my church called “The Cause,” and they’re helping us with our 501(c)(3) status, vision, and organization. Check out their website and our spot on it here: The Cause. They provide the covering for us as we kick things off, and they’ve already provided some incredibly helpful ideas and direction for Still Waters. There are some updates on their site about how to be praying, and they’ve also set up a tax-deductible donation portal for those who want to partner with us in this vision. The first support raising goal is to put a deposit down on the location for our retreat so that we can lock down the place and dates to run Still Waters next summer.

I mentioned in my last post that this is my “treasure buried in a field,” and I’m trying to keep that image in my mind through all the new avenues of this calling. When I began grad school at Wheaton, one of the professors, (Mrs.) Dr. McNutt, welcomed us and said that our coming to Wheaton was like that treasure buried in the field from Matthew 13. She acknowledged that many of us had left friends and families, homes and jobs to pursue each of our graduate tracks because we knew serving and following God was worth it, much like the man from that parable who, knowing the treasure that was buried in a plot of land, sold all that he had and bought that otherwise barren plot of land. Jesus’ point is that that is what it means to understand the Kingdom of God’s worth—to give up the things of this world in pursuit of the One who calls us.

I welled up with tears back when Dr. McNutt shared that quick opening thought at orientation because I had left my job, home, and friends in Hawaii for grad school, having major second thoughts but still knowing deep down that I needed to be back at Wheaton pursuing my master’s degree.

As I’m in this cliff-jumping season, I keep reminding myself that the Kingdom of God is like that treasure buried in the field. So when I say this is my treasure buried in a field, I mean that I know I’m crazy from a worldly perspective to have given up my job and dream apartment to live with family in pursuit of Still Waters, but it’s much less crazy when I remember the overwhelming sense of calling God keeps impressing upon me and what pursuing Him above the things of this world is worth. I definitely have to keep reminding myself of that truth on a daily basis, relying on the faithfulness of the One who calls.

So that’s Still Waters (for starters). I know I left out a lot, like where exactly it will be, the dates, how long it will run, a schedule, and so on and so forth, and while many of those details are taking shape, some are still up in the air. I would love your prayers for all of those details. There’s so much more I could share, and I will be doing that in the future. I’ve also gotten to share with some of you already, so thanks for listening as I go on and on and on about Still Waters! 🙂

My biggest prayer with Still Waters is that, at any moment if this becomes about me or my story, God would stop me. I want this to be about Him, for God to move in great ways, so that His hope would be found as people connect with one another, process what the heck cancer is and means, have some fun by the water, and worship together.

I’d love to answer questions if you have them, so feel free to ask. There are definite uncertainties in my life right now, but again and again God is affirming this calling, so I’m going to keep moving forward, one step at a time, trusting Him to lead, provide, and guide! Thank you so much to all those who have already passed on contacts or ideas! I’m so humbled by the support and encouragement God is placing around me and Still Waters, so thanks for your time and love!

Have a most excellent weekend, be aware of lymphoma today {and all days}, and may you seek Him first as that treasure in a field, regardless of the things of this world you have to leave behind, knowing that He is worth it.

7 thoughts on “Introducing: Still Waters Cancer Retreat

  1. This is a wonderful beginning, Hannah, and I know the Lord will continue to move in the direction He wants you to go! You are a faithful servant! God bless you!

  2. Hannah I will commit to pray for this endeavor that God has entrusted you with. Will you share further about how to commit to support this ministry financially? Is the greater need one time gifts or monthly support? Also, I have a contact in Houston for Cancer Con – a connection resource for folks who’ve had cancer to connect with folks who have cancer if you’re interested. Love you and praying that God will use Still Waters in ways you’ve never dreamed possible. Praying for clarity and open doors and straight pathways as you hammer out the details of Still Waters. Praying for the right staff and leadership to walk along with you.

    • Thank you so much, Aunt Karen!! I so appreciate it!
      On financial support, probably the most pressing need is to pay the deposit on a location to secure it and the dates. Then we’ll need to pay the other installments as well, but raising funds for scholarships for people to attend will be another big step after that! Either one time gifts or monthly support is great–I’m looking at this with open palms and grateful for God’s provision of all kinds! Donations will go through, and the donation portal is open now.
      As for the contact, I’d love to get in touch with him or her! Thanks for thinking about that!
      Excited for your upcoming trip!!

  3. Pingback: Rogue Lessons | Hannah McGinnis

  4. So proud of you and His calling on your life. I know you will do well because He goes before you. Praying for all the details to fall in place. See you soon.

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