Last weekend I had the opportunity to go away for my church's annual women's retreat. I was psyched to be getting away for 2 nights. My mom came from out of town to watch the girls - thanks Mom! It was a good weekend away but unexpectedly very, very hard. I expected to enjoy time away from the girls which I did. I was looking forward to spending some time with friends. I also was eager to have some time to just be quiet before God and have uninterrupted thoughts. All of those things happened which was really cool. What I didn't expect was how hard my grief was going to hit me while I was gone. I was an emotional train wreck most of the weekend. I started crying after one of the sessions, and it was almost impossible for me to turn it off. I was like a leaky facet ;) and I was totally unprepared for it. I think because I didn't have my normal routine and my kids needing something from me constantly, it left me lots of time to be thinking about things. I also underestimated the sentimental significance of the location where the retreat was held. I had been to this camp before...with Corey...10 years ago! I can't believe it was that long ago. I hadn't been back since. We had spent five days there for "family camp" with the church we were attending at the time. It was in the summer of 2001. We had been married not quite 3 years, no kids yet, didn't have the responsibility of our house, just unadulterated marital bliss :)
So, coming back to this place was harder than I expected. The grounds of the retreat center are beautiful. Lots of woods, a beautiful lake, stone walls...it all reminded me of Corey. I spent some time by myself Saturday afternoon (we had free time) just walking the grounds. I wanted to find the cabin where we had stayed. I had to take a trail through the woods to get there. There was a stream that flowed under a bridge with lots of moss covered rocks. It was peaceful. I spent time just taking in the surroundings. I remember how Corey used to do that. I would often find him just staring off into nature. I always wondered what he was thinking about. I don't usually talk to Corey. It just feels awkward to me. But on my walk around the grounds I did. I found some large boulders along the shoreline looking out of Chestnut Cove at Lake Winnipesaukee. Mostly I reminisced with Corey about the best years of our marriage. I told him how sad I was that our marriage had to end while at its lowest point in almost 12 years. Maybe if it had ended on a high note it just would have made it all the harder to adjust to life without him. But anyway you cut it, there just is no "easy" when it comes to grief and loss.
The theme of the retreat was grace. I spent some time telling Corey the things I was sorry for; things I had said or done through the years that hurt him. Our closest and dearest loved ones are unfortunately blessed or maybe I should say cursed, to see the 'real' us including the ugliest parts of our sinful nature. So, I asked Corey to forgive me for all the times he saw my flaws standing out clearly through my words and actions. The comment of one of my counselors came to mind - Corey's love for me has been made perfect now that he is in Heaven, a completed masterpiece perfectly reflecting Christ and Christ's perfect love. I know Corey has forgiven me. God reminded me that I need to forgive myself too. We cast stones into the lake at the very end of the retreat...stones symbolizing the burdens we carry that we're letting go of. Regret doesn't plague me but I would be lying if I said it wasn't still present for me from time to time. You know...playing the would've, should've, could've, what if and if only game...I threw a stone for my regret...all the would've, should've, could've, what ifs and if onlys pertaining to Corey's illness and death. I just keep reminding myself that I couldn't have saved him. He wasn't mine to save. All my love wasn't enough.
Another experience over the weekend really spoke loudly to me. It was Saturday night and I was pretty exhausted from all the crying I had done throughout the day; in fact, I still had a headache from it that I knew was only going to go away by sleeping it off. The evening session had wrapped up. Hold on, I need to back up to make this story even better. The evening session was very powerful and it culminated with an invitation for prayer. Just a couple weeks or so after Corey's death one of the woman from my womens' Bible study group had organized a prayer vigil for myself and Stacy (who had found out one day prior to Corey's death that the baby girl she was pregnant with was not going to live). There were probably about 20 or so women from church and our women’s Bible study group who came to spend an hour in prayer for the two of us. It was a blessing to have my sisters in Christ surrounding both of us with their support through love and prayer. At the end of the evening’s session this particular night of the retreat they gave an invitation for anyone who wanted to be prayed for to come up to the front and then their close friends could come stand around them and pray together. I am a firm believer in the power of corporate prayer. God says in the Bible (Matthew 2:18) that “...wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” I have seen God answer prayers in some pretty cool ways when the body of Christ (his church, a group of believers) comes together seeking God’s will, and it has been a faith building experience for me personally to have my sisters in Christ help carry my burdens to the foot of God’s throne through prayer. Most of you who know me well know that I don’t usually like to be the center of attention. I was reluctant to go forward because over the last 9 months I’ve needed a lot of attention (in the form of lots of support), and I usually find myself hesitant to ask for more. However, I really wanted the blessing of having my friends pray for me. I could see God’s hand in how he was working in my heart throughout the weekend, and I felt like he was giving me a nudge out of my comfortable place of just keeping things to myself. A friend sitting near me looked over at me and said my name (indicating to me that she thought I should go up) and that was all it took for me to feel like I had the validation I needed to go forward. As soon as I got up there my leaky faucet of tears turned on full force and I pretty much fell apart. I just felt so broken hearted with my loss and the fact that Corey wasn’t ever going to be a part of my life here again…the finality of that was hitting me like a ton of bricks just as it had in the hours and days after his death. Earlier that day when I was sitting on the rocks at the edge of the water talking to Corey and God, the last thought I had that I expressed was, “How am I ever going to get over you Corey? How am I ever going to get over him God? How?” I think the answer to my question is simply that I’m not going to get over him, at least never completely. He will always hold a piece of my heart and my loss is now a part of who I am. My life is not dominated by it and it does not define who I am, but it has most certainly changed me, my relationship with God, and my outlook on life. But I think the deeper question I was feeling was what do I do with my brokenness? It was later that night during the prayer time that I got an answer. I didn’t hear God audibly, but I clearly heard him speak to me in response to my question, “Ask me. Don’t forget to ask me to heal your heart.” Sounds pretty simple, but I realized that, up until that point, I hadn’t really been asking God to heal my broken heart. I had asked him for help with all kinds of other things over the last year; help with decisions I've had to make, help with knowing how to help the girls, all the practical kinds of things. God strengthened my faith in him that night and in His ability to fix what is broken. I just heard a song on the radio this morning after I had been working on finishing this post last night. It’s called Healing Begins and is by the band 10th Avenue North. The lyrics speak about the need to be broken in order to be fixed (duh, right?) and that allowing ourselves to let our walls down and admit that we are broken and need God is what is needed for Him to step in and heal us. One of the verses talks about our place of brokenness being the place where the light meets the dark. The light of Christ’s healing hands meeting the darkness of our human condition. I had made the comment at one of my grief group meetings weeks back that the message of the gospel is all about fixing what is broken, saving what is lost, bringing life out of death. I know I sound like a broken record, but the truth of this is continually encouraging and exciting to me. It's where I get my joy from, even in the midst of my sorrow. So that was what I asked my friends to pray for me that night at the retreat; that God would heal the brokenness in my heart over Corey’s death. And for Abi and Ali’s hearts too; that they would not be hardened toward God because of their hurt over losing their daddy. I know we will still go on missing Corey, at some times more than others, but I know God is going to continue to carry us as we grieve and move us toward healing. He uses our lowest points in life to draw us closer to Him, and I know for certain that I’m in a safe place with Him as my refuge.
The part that really grabbed me was near where he talk about how in Christ we are held together. That God is intimately acquainted with all the circumstances in our lives. No matter what comes, God will hold on to us and literally hold us together in any and every circumstance that comes our way. In whatever storm we are in, Christ is the glue that is holding us together. Then he closed with the same verses that I had chosen to have read at Corey’s Memorial service. The ones from Isaiah 40:27, “Why do you say, O Jacob,and complain, oh Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
I couldn’t believe my ears…the coincidence of it being those verses in the context of what he had just shared on top of what I had already experienced earlier that evening touched me deeply. It was as if God had meant those words just for me, that he was reassuring me once again that He was holding me together through this storm of loss, and I was moved to tears (by this point it didn’t take much). God is SO good…all the time! I am in awe of His love for me. He is faithfully at work even when sometimes it seems like He is nowhere to be found. I would really encourage you to watch the entire video if you have the time.