Respite Retreat

Right after we lost Owen, I read Holding Onto Hope, by Nancy Guthrie. Her words spoke to my aching soul in a way no other human could. In the book, she wrote about losing her daughter Hope and the grief that follows such a loss, but a grief filled with hope in the Lord. My cousin and his wife also lost their son Joseph six years ago. They know Nancy and her husband David and told us about the retreats they host every year for couples who have lost children. They attended one themselves, and said it was the best thing they did. After hearing that, I knew Brian and I needed to go. In January, we had the privilege of doing just that.

As the weekend approached, I became quite anxious about everything. The weeks prior to going had been another "dark patch" in my grieving process that didn't seem to be fading. I knew the weekend would stir up lots of really difficult memories and emotions. I was nervous about hearing others' stories and sharing our pain, not knowing what that would look like. The moment we walked into the door, my anxiety went away. Nancy Guthrie was there, greeted us by name and welcomed us in. We spent the weekend with eleven other couples, all who had lost children. I can't tell you how comforting it was to be surrounded by people who truly understand every single thought, worry, ache and pain that we feel. We were able to share Owen's story and listen to the stories of all the other beautiful children. You can imagine how emotional and difficult that was, but it really was good to listen, share, and be heard. When you meet others who have experienced this same loss, there is an instant connection. Those eleven other couples felt like family that weekend. There was lots of time for conversations and getting to know them better. Every thought they shared, I have also felt. We were able to encourage each other through dark moments we have faced or will be facing.

One thing Nancy said really stuck with me. She said, "Nurturing our grief is how we mother our child." I love that. It's so true. As a mother, when you're faced with life without your child to care for, you have to nurture something, and the closest thing to our child is the grief we are left with. The way she said it made me feel more like a mom than I have felt since April when Owen died. In that setting with eleven other moms without their babies, I felt like a normal mom. Something I long to feel every day. It was so comforting.

I wanted to be a sponge that weekend and absorb everything I could. The whole weekend was so good, but the last morning was my favorite. It was a time of praise and worship where we went through scripture together followed by songs. The focus was on hearing Jesus speak into our sorrow. That's really the goal in all of this, right?

Emptiness is what I feel  the most (other than deep sorrow) after losing Owen. My arms are empty. His crib is empty. Our house is empty. My heart often feels empty. Nancy spoke about that emptiness. We looked at 2 Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness. She said God is saying "My grace is going to be enough in the form, timing, and quantity that you need it. I'm going to fill up the emptiness." She said that we see emptiness as our biggest problem, but God sees it as his biggest opportunity. God created the heavens and the earth out of emptiness. He filled it with light, life, and goodness. God spoke it into place. He is enough and he will fill our emptiness.

I also struggle with wondering about the "what if's" during Owen's life... I wonder if he would still be here if we made different decisions about his medical care. It's such a horrible and dangerous place to go in my mind. What if Owen stayed on ECMO one more day, or came off two days before when he was stronger? What if I ate something that caused his heart condition? What if I knew about his sickness before he was born? Would that have changed his treatment and given him a better chance? Those are just a few of the many what if's I think of. We looked at Revelation 1:17-18 that says, "Don't be afraid! ... I hold the keys of death and the grave."  Jesus holds the key to life and death. He's on the other side of the door to receive. Even though it feels way too soon to say goodbye, it was right on time. She went on to say, because Jesus holds the keys, we can surrender the "if only's." While I don't like that it was the right time for Owen to die, it's so incredibly freeing to be reminded that nothing I could have done would have changed the outcome.

Exhaustion is another struggle I've faced. Grieving takes so much energy. More energy than I even have most days. "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest" - Matthew 11:28. Jesus' invitation and command is to come to Him and He will give us rest. Often times when I come to God, I come with my own agenda. I have plans and dreams and long for them to be met more than I long to draw closer to Him. Nancy said that to rest in Him means surrendering all of our plans. This is the hardest thing for me. When Owen was alive, I remember coming to God, and asking for healing. There was one point though when I asked for healing, but also for His will to be done. It was the scariest thing for me. I knew that in doing that, I was surrendering to my plan for Owen to become healthy and live a full life. Instead, I was accepting the fact that God's will could be to take him home. During these past ten months without him, I still have plans and hopes. I struggle with where my hope lies. Does it lie in having more children and job security and health, or does it lie in the Lord? Letting God be enough even if my prayers aren't answered and coming to Him without an agenda is where true rest is found.

Everything I've felt. Emptiness, anger, regret, sorrow, weariness. It was all covered during this one Sunday morning at the Respite Retreat. As we said our goodbyes before heading home, I went up to Nancy and tearfully told her that I knew people say that healing can happen, but that I honestly didn't believe them. But during that weekend, I wasn't sure how, but my heart experienced some healing for the first time. I am so thankful to Nancy and David for continuing this ministry. As anxious as I was to come, I didn't want to leave. I'm thankful for new friendships and a deeper relationship with God because of it.


  1. What powerful words from a powerful weekend. Thanks for sharing and ministering to hurting hearts.

  2. Thank you for sharing! Beautiful!

  3. So amazing to hear! We're in the process of reading her book to. It is by far the best book I've read during this difficult season. ~Pamela