Straight from an Awestruck Heart
By Lisa Elliott
Awestruck—there are simply no other words to adequately describe what we experienced after facilitating our first-ever HOPE Retreat for Grieving Parents. It was a sacred space, to be certain, as we stood on holy ground alongside twenty-four others who had experienced the death of their child.
The Lord showed up in ways only He could, to provide healing and hope to those who attended. We addressed topics such as identifying the effects of losing a child, caring for yourself after the death of a child, navigating grief in your marriage and family, managing relationships with others in your grief, and connecting with God as you grieve. Through the teaching of God’s Word, meaningful worship, the mutual sharing of our losses, and informal fellowship we were simply awestruck by the presence of God as we corporately declared “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the Lord God, Almighty.
I’m convinced that there is nothing this side of heaven that compares to a hug between two grieving mothers. It's like a heart magnet with a bond so immediate it takes your breath away. As to be expected, the weekend was full of tears. However, as it unfolded there was also the healing balm of laughter heard amongst us. What a transformation to behold! The entire retreat was brutally-beautiful and, in the words of one of the participants, exhaustingly-rejuvenating.
Before our 19-year-old son, Ben died of leukemia, if you had asked me whether my pastor-husband and I could have ever imagined leading a retreat like this my answer would have been emphatically, “No!” And, yet, here we were planning, preparing, presenting, and now, processing all that the Lord had done in our midst over a brief thirty-six hours together. It was a painful privilege to have the opportunity to turn our misery into ministry and our mess into a message of hope.
Then, there was the privilege of ministering alongside our son, Jacob and his wife Shaylyn. Jacob learned to play the guitar the year his brother battled leukemia. On Ben’s final day on earth, all he wanted was to hear his brother, Jacob play his guitar at his bedside. After Ben died Jacob grieved through his guitar and eventually responded to God’s call upon his life to worship ministry. It was no surprise that, throughout the weekend, Jacob led us in worship as deep calls to deep.
It was seven years into our grief that my husband, David and I sensed we needed to head down to Nashville, Tennessee to attend the Respite Retreat for couples who had lost a child. It was conducted by David and Nancy Guthrie (hosts of GriefShare), birthed out of the loss of their own two infant children, Hope and Gabriel. We went to the retreat to seek further healing and came out of it with a deep impression on our hearts to prayerfully consider bringing this kind of specialized ministry back to Canada. On our long drive home we couldn’t deny, nor could we contain the stirring in our hearts and began taking notes of how we would conduct a similar retreat.
The conception of this profound ministry lay dormant for the next seven years. Until just over a year ago when we were contacted by Muskoka Bible Centre in Huntsville, Ontario located on the beautiful Mary Lake. They asked my husband and me to consider creating and facilitating a retreat for grieving parents for them as a new initiative.
How did they know? In my mind, it was nothing short of God’s redemptive grace and a confirmation of what He’d laid upon our hearts years earlier.
I'm thankful that, when we’re open to it, God uses our pain for His purposes and gives us the privilege of comforting others with the same comfort we have received from the Comforter, Himself. (2 Cor. 1:2-4) In those sacred moments, all we can do is offer up a sacrifice of praise to our God (Heb. 13:15, NASB) and thank Him for the Hope He gives.
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV).
About this Contributor:
Lisa Elliott is an inspirational speaker and award-winning author of The Ben Ripple, Dancing in the Rain, and A Ministry Survival Guide. She’s also a writer for Just Between Us Magazine, theStory, and Good Ground. She and her pastor-husband, David, have four children (three on earth, one in heaven) and serve the Lord together in Ottawa, ON, Canada.