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A Story of Loss | Grief Recovery Retreat for Pastors

Whitestone will host a 4 day / 3 nights workshop and retreat for Pastor/Spouses who have lost a child, grandchild, or spouse on Aug. 8-11, 2016. Grief is an individual process but Spark of Life, a national grief recovery ministry has been helping folks find strength and comfort after the loss of a close loved one. This will be the first workshop we have hosted at Whitestone specifically for Pastors and their spouses. There are some scholarship funds available. Call Paul for specific information on the workshop 865.389.7182.  – Paul

Below is a story from David Matthews, Founder of Spark of Life on personal loss and the need for grief recovery.


As many of you know, our partners in Spark of Life, Rusty and Nancy Meadows, lost their 34 year-old son, Justin, on January 17, 2015. They were told the news of Justin’s death a few minutes before we were to begin our last day of Spark of Life Retreat # 43 on Sunday morning, January 18. Rusty and Nancy were leading the retreat with Debbie and me.

The following is what I read at the conclusion of Justin’s Celebration of Life service on Saturday. It obviously reflects our personal beliefs

We were excited about our first Spark of Life Grief Retreat of 2015. Rusty and Nancy Meadows and Dennis and Terri Rine and Debbie and I absolutely love what we do, though of course we hate the circumstances surrounding the people who come.

People ask us often, “How do you do what you do, dealing with death all the time?” I usually answer that question with another question – “How could we not do what we do? We actually deal with Life all the time. You see, in every retreat we lead, we see much more Life than we do death.”

So last Wednesday, January 14, the four of us gathered in Texas to prepare for 17 grievers whom we would meet the next night. This would be our 43rd retreat since we began in 2009. We approach each one as if it is the most important one, for it is the one that occupies the present.

We knew that on Thursday, when we meet everyone, we would hear sad stories of loss. We would see despair and hopelessness on many faces. But we also knew that we would grow to love 17 people, and experience a spark of life with each one. And despair would turn to hope – hope that though life would never be the same again after such losses, hope that each one could live forward, having a rich and fulfilling life once again.

Little did we realize what was to come.

As Thursday turned into Friday and then to Saturday, we experienced too many tears to count. But we also saw smiles, and laughter, and joy – right there in the midst of death. We saw those who had experienced unthinkable loss reach out to others, encouraging, listening, hugging, loving. We saw ‘hope’ begin to take its rightful place.

And then Sunday came.

Sundays, to me, have a multitude of connotations. But each one centers on victory, and hope, and life. And each one goes back to a Sunday a long time ago. The Sunday of January 18, 2015 would certainly need a Sunday 2,000 years ago. About 10 minutes before we were to begin the last day of the retreat, Rusty and Nancy received the phone call all parents hope they never get. Their 34 year-old son Justin had died earlier that morning – totally unexpectedly.

The expected shock and tears and wailing began. Confusion and numbness engulfed them, and us as well. Death was smothering life out of the room.

And then Life showed up.

I will never forget Rusty and Nancy’s words to us. Mere minutes after this horrible, horrific news, through such deep tears and anguish, Rusty turns to me and takes my hand and says, “David, you and Debbie must finish the retreat. You must take care of these 17 precious people. Finish the retreat!” And Nancy affirms this to us – “Finish the retreat!”

And there, in the midst of death, Life reigned.

You see, and many of you know this, death cannot defeat true Life. I hate death. It pains me to see those I love, and even those I don’t know, experience deep grief and hurt and pain. I know you don’t like it either. But this I know – Life triumphs. The grave is empty. And therein lies hope; therein is the Spark of Life.

David Mathews
Co-Founder and Executive Director
Spark of Life Grief Recovery Retreats