All I can say is ... Wow! What an amazing Labor Day weekend we had! On Friday morning, we dropped Bethany off at school and headed out to Henrietta, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. We were excited, but nervous...not really knowing what to expect at a retreat for bereaved parents. We arrived about 4:00, and were immediately struck by the beauty of the Hiding Place lodge and its surroundings. We carried our stuff inside, found our room, and began meeting the people with whom we would be sharing the weekend. There were twelve couples there, including our hosts, David & Nancy Guthrie, and we were from ten different states and Canada. We were of all ages and backgrounds, and by all outward appearances, had nothing in common.
We had dinner together at 5:30, and talked about our hometowns, our jobs, our travel that day, etc., but did not discuss what we all most wanted to talk about...our children in Heaven. We all knew that later that evening, we would each have the opportunity to tell our story. And after dinner, that's what we did. Or at least we started to. The lodge had a large living room area with comfortable couches and chairs, and we sat in a large circle and shared. We actually only got through three stories that evening, and we continued into the next morning. It was both heart-wrenching and heart-warming to sit and listen to each couple as they shared the most difficult experience(s) of their lives. Our experiences were all very different, yet we were immediately bonded together by our common heartbreak.
After we finished sharing our stories, we spent time discussing various aspects of grief. Topics included how husbands and wives often handle their grief differently, dealing with people who don't understand, issues related to holidays and other special days, cleaning out your child's room, etc. On Saturday night, we had a little comic relief when we played "The Trulywed Game". Brad and I were contestants...we didn't win, but we had fun playing. (And I discovered that he has no idea how many pairs of shoes I own!) Then, on Sunday morning, we had an incredible worship service, in which Nancy reminded us of all the ways that Jesus speaks into our sorrow...
"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me." Matthew 26:38
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."
"My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness."
II Corinthians 12:9
"Don't be afraid!...I hold the keys of death and the grave."
"Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest."
...All much-needed reminders as we walk this road. And after this weekend, I think we're both a little more prepared to keep putting one foot in front of the other until we finally step off this earthly road and onto the Heavenly one.
I plan to share more about the Respite Retreat in a future post, but I need to close for now. I do want to ask you to be praying for Jedidiah Harper and his family as he will be undergoing extensive scans and tests tomorrow. He has completed his chemotherapy treatments and these tests are to ensure that his cancer is gone for good! I know so well what a scary time this is for him and his family, though, and I ask that you will hold them up in your prayers tonight and tomorrow. Thank you!