Finding hope in Grief – Spark of Life Hero Thomas

There are three things about heroes that I think most of you know. At Spark of Life, heroes abound everywhere. The thing about heroes at Spark of Life is, number one, real heroes don’t consider themselves heroes. They don’t even know they’re a hero.

Number two, at Spark of Life nobody wants to be a Spark of Life hero, because it has to do with loss and grief. Number three, heroes inspire other people to greater heights of living, because heroes never quit. They might feel like quitting, they might feel hopeless and helpless, but at Spark of Life we know thousands that have not quit.

Today’s hero, this week’s hero, I’m going to call him Thomas. He and his wife came to a retreat many years ago. Their granddaughter had died in a car accident in which the grandfather was driving, Thomas was driving. At a stop light, completely still, did nothing wrong. The daughter is strapped up in the back seat and a car crashes in. Never slowed down. Never stopped. Never put their foot on the brake, and killed their granddaughter.

I can only imagine the feelings. We have 11 grandchildren. All of you who have grandchildren know you would die for each one of them. You would give up everything.

So when they came to a retreat about a year after the horrible accident that changed their lives and the lives of their whole family, forever changed them, they came looking for help. They came seeking hope in a hopeless situation in their minds.

So at Spark of Life we have these philosophies. One of the philosophies is if you come to a Spark of Life in-person retreat you’re going to be treated like a king or queen for that weekend, from Thursday night till Sunday. You’re going to be fed well. You’re going to be served. You’re not going to have to do dishes.

But one of the things I love about Spark, when we get to do them, we get to carry the bags from their car to their room. We don’t let them carry their own bags. So at this retreat where Thomas and his wife comes it’s at Whitestone Country Inn in east Tennessee, near Knoxville, and it’s one of the most gorgeous places. We’ve done many retreats there. They have rooms that are just gorgeous.

So where they parked, Thomas and his wife came. So Thomas pops open the trunk and I greet them and saw the trunk and said, “Are these your bags?” “Yes.” I start to get the bags out of the trunk and he says, “No, no, I’ll get the bags, David,” very nice.

I said, “No, Thomas, I’ll get the bags.” He said, “No, David, I’ll get the bags.” He was very persistent. So he grabs the bags out of my hands and he puts them out, and now he’s going to carry these bags about 100 yards.

So as he gets the bags I said, “Thomas, at a Spark of Life retreat we carry the bags.” He said, “Well, you’re not carrying this guy’s bags.” I said, “Yes, I am. I’m carrying the bags.” He said, “No, you’re not.” I’m grabbing the bags out of his hand, he’s grabbing the bags back, and we’re having this wrestling match over his bags.

So I said, “Thomas, I’m in charge of this retreat. Well actually Debbie, my wife, is in charge. My job is to carry your bags. I’m going to carry your bags,” and I literally yanked them out of his hands.

So we get to the room, I opened the room. They had the best room on the whole place, and this is a gorgeous place to stay, Whitestone Country Inn. I get nothing for saying that, right?

It’s just gorgeous, and the rooms are like suites. So it’s this suite and there’s windows opening… You can oversee the lake out there and the rolling hills of east Tennessee. It’s beautiful. Jacuzzi. It’s a suite, sitting area, music is playing, the view is spectacular.

We go into the room. Did I tell you that Thomas and his wife drove, I don’t know, hundreds of miles to the retreat? They did not fly. They drove in a pretty old car and they were scholarship in. About half the people that come to a Spark of Life retreat cannot afford to come. If we charged everything that it costs us to run a retreat, half the people cannot afford it. About half the people who’ve come to our retreats since 2009 have not been able to afford to come.

We used to give away retreats until 2020. Because it was costing so much to do retreats and we wanted to do more we started charging, but our philosophy is we don’t want to turn anybody away. Sometimes we have to, right? We just don’t have the money for everybody to come free.

But even today, last year about half the people who came could not afford the charge for the retreat, so we scholarship them because people like you gave so that we don’t have to turn anybody away. We don’t want to ever turn anybody away.

So Thomas and his wife have been scholarship because of donors. So as he looks at the room he… I put down the bags and this man starts to cry. The bag wrestler, he turns to me with tears coming down his face. He turns to his wife and says, “Honey, this is the most beautiful room we’ve ever stayed in.” She said, “I know it, honey. I know it.”

He turns to me and he says, “David, thank you and your wife for doing this.” We hadn’t done anything. I had just won the wrestling match, right? By default, because the wife intervened, “Let him carry the bags.”

We hadn’t done anything. And he says, “Thank you.” I said, “Thomas, the people to thank are those who have given to make this possible, to stay in a beautiful place.” He says, “Would you tell them thank you for us? This is incredible, what you all are doing.”

Do you know what we did? Do you know what you did, who give to Spark? You cared. You cared. That’s what you did. So I am thanking you on behalf of Thomas and his wife. Do you know I walked out of the room, he’s still in the room looking at the view, and his wife walks out with me and she tells me so he couldn’t hear, “David, that’s the first time my husband has cried since our granddaughter died. Thank you.”

I said, “Thank you.” I went back to find other bags to carry in because I love carrying in bags of people. I’m honored, Debbie and I are honored, and all the Spark team are honored to do this work because this work… Do you know they could have left that day, they could have left that minute and it had been a good weekend for them.

We could have ended the retreat right there and it would have been good. You know why it would have been good? Because they knew they weren’t alone. Somebody cares. Somebody carried their bags, but somebody gave money so that they could experience this, and by Sunday they’re different people.

Now they still have their pain, they’re still in grief, but they have hope now. You know why they have hope? Because somebody cared for them. They weren’t alone. Somebody accepted them as they are, and our Spark team did that, but the heroes of this story are the people… There are two sets of heroes. They’re the heroes that come to the retreat and they haven’t quit yet, and there are the heroes that give so that other can come.

We have the most loyal alumni base in the world. We do, and you’re part of that. We have the most loyal givers in the world because they care, and when you give you care. They know this, the people that come to these retreats, they know this.

So it’s the last day of the retreat, everybody is hugging. There’s smiles on Sunday. Most of it’s because of my jokes. Not really. My jokes are sorry… I got three bad jokes. But they’re smiling on Sunday because they now have hope. Everybody is smiling. They’re crying and they’re smiling, they’re laughing.

We’re all saying bye, and crying more, and laughing more, and kidding each other, and Thomas and his wife are the last ones to say goodbye. They’re waiting intentionally.

So Thomas comes up to me, Debbie is talking to his wife, and he gives me this big old hug. Tears are coming down his face again, and he says, “No, man, I just love you.” I said, “I love you too.” He slips me two $100 bills, and his words are, “Use this to help others come to a retreat.”

See why Thomas is my hero? He doesn’t even know he’s a hero. You see why you guys are all heroes? Because when you give, no matter what you give, your prayers, your encouragement, your emails, your money, you’re helping somebody feel like somebody cares and they’re not alone on this journey.

Our gala on November 11th we need your help. We need your help just to invite people in your homes and watch the live feed. We do one fundraiser a year now. Last year was the greatest fundraiser we ever had. This COVID thing has kicked our butt, but it ain’t winning. It’s not going to win.

We want to reach more people. We don’t want to turn anybody away from a retreat because of money. We need your help, whatever you can give, whatever you can do. Thank you for being part of the greatest team in the world, the Spark of Life team, the alumni, the supporters.

Some of you have never been to a retreat and you give money. I know who you are. I just want to give you a hug. God comes near the brokenhearted and he comes nearer to them in many different ways, and this is one really cool way.

So carry the spirit of Thomas with you today and this week. Carry somebody’s bags. We all have got a lot of baggage. At Spark of Life there’s always, always hope. Thank you, Thomas. You’re my hero.

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