I purposely did not write before we left about the retreat my husband and I recently attended, not because it was any big secret, but because I wasn't sure what to write. The few weeks before we left had been especially hard for me for a myriad of reasons. Preparing to be away from home for several days and making arrangements for my older daughters brought back memories of doing the same as we prepared for Kristen's birth, then doing it again just 14 weeks later as we prepared for her surgery. My heart was just heavy as I missed my baby girl. And, of course, there was some anxiety about the long trip and uncertainties of what to expect at the retreat.
When February 16th rolled around and we prepared to leave, I was so ready for a change of scenery. I looked forward to some time away with my husband. Even so, I cried as we left the girls at my sister-in-law's house. I knew they would have fun and would be well cared for, but the tears came anyway. On our way through Kansas City, we drove near the same route we had taken to Children's Mercy a year and a half ago, and the tears came again. I hadn't thought through the fact that we would be driving that near to CMH. It caught me completely off-guard and melted me into a puddle.
Being able to meet Wendy, one of my "Kristen friends" (people I would never have met had it not been for Kristen), the next night was such a sweet blessing. This dear lady was my phone nurse during my pregnancy. We spoke every month, and despite the fact that she could have been fired for telling me so, she prayed for me and for my baby during those uncertain months before Kristen arrived. She grieved the loss of my daughter with me when she learned of Kristen's death. We've stayed in touch via e-mail since, and it was such a wonderful joy to get to meet this sweet lady in person.
We drove the next afternoon to "The Hiding Place," a very aptly named lodge located northwest of Nashville. This beautiful facility would be "home" for the next couple of days for us and 11 other couples. The common thread? We each have experienced the death of a child.
We shared our stories and our hearts, lots of tears, gentle hugs, even laughter. Our stories are all different. Our children range in age from infant to young adult. We come from different parts of the country. Some had watched their children battle illnesses, others had been struck by sudden tragedy. For some, it had been years; for others, only months. Some had packed a lifetime into a few short weeks, others were caught completely unaware. All were left with shattered hopes and dreams. None of us ever pictured ourselves on this road. It's a road certainly no one wants to be traveling. We found a strange comfort in sharing the burdens of our hearts with people who understand. After feeling like a stranger in a strange land for so long, I felt safe and secure in this place where everyone there "gets" what I'm going through. We left with renewed spirits, with hope, with e-mail addresses for our 22 new friends and one last bite of some amazing chicken enchiladas. :)
Our new friend, Jon, summed it up so wonderfully:
"It's the best retreat you never want to go to."
David & Nancy Guthrie were our hosts for this Respite Retreat, the fifth one they've organized. They've been on this road longer than the rest of us and have used their own sorrow to reach out and minister to others. The Guthries are amazing...a beautiful couple we are so blessed to have met.
The weekend was truly a respite for me. I am grateful for the opportunity to attend, for a husband who drove all 1700+ miles himself, for the fellowship with new friends, and for the many ways God met me in Tennessee.