Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift! I realize this verse is probably talking about salvation, but I think it applies to our situation as well. God gave us our son back after drowning last August, but He also gave us front-row seats to one of His greatest miracles in modern times. (I say that without bias, of course!)
One year ago tomorrow, on August 5, 2011, our youth group went on an activity. Their goal: to have some fun in the water on a hot summer day. Their attendees: teenagers from our church and several adult chaperones. Their destination: Long Beach, Washington. Their future: unknown. Their lives: changed forever.
Sounds like a Twilight Zone episode, doesn't it? And some people would like to explain the events of that fateful day and the miracles that followed as due simply to medical triumph or natural, scientific causes or just a streak of bad---and then---good luck. We know the truth. We were there. We lived through it. We know what happened, how it happened, why it happened, and BY WHOM it happened. It was God.
You see, when we sent our three oldest kids off that day for an outing with the youth group, we had no idea what would occur. We gave them hugs and kisses and warned them to be careful, never once expecting anything bad to actually happen. We have always tried our best to rear our children according to God's Word, knowing that they are only ours on loan from the Father. He gave us five beautiful children to rear for Him; He trusts us with that responsibility. Chad and I are not the best parents in the world, but our kids know right from wrong.........and they know they'd better choose right or Mom and Dad will have their heads! :-) When I said goodbye and drove away from the church parking lot, I never expected to have our assistant pastor, Bro. Tim Minge, at our house some hours later telling us that there had been an accident. Part of rearing children for God is trusting Him to know what's best for them and to do what's best for them. We trust God with our children, always have, always will.
One year ago, Amanda, Katie, and Dale happily climbed aboard the church bus for a teen activity to the beach. Our church (and our family) holds strict standards, so there would be no bathing suits, no mixed swimming, no boy/girl hanky-panky---just good, clean fun in the sun. I don't even know for sure what activities the youth pastor had planned for that day; they probably went in the water a bit, played football on the beach some, got more sun than they should have (girls!), looked for shells, etc. Our assistant youth pastor's wife has a great picture of Dale before the accident, holding up a large piece of driftwood he had found. He's grinning from ear to ear, pleased as punch. At some point after lunch, the teens were back in the water, playing. They had been instructed by the adults not to go out too deep but to stay in shallow water. Basically, knee wading only. I realize some will still say that's too dangerous---and, at this point, I agree! Amanda, being our oldest, has always felt responsible for her younger siblings and took it upon herself to watch out for Dale at the beach. She would look over every few minutes to make sure he was behaving well and not goofing off too much. She told me that she had just begun to relax her vigil when the unthinkable happened. She looked away for a few minutes, splashing and playing with her friends, when her friend's brother came running toward them, screaming to get out of the water. They looked at him in some amazement, thinking he had lost his mind. In fact, Mandie said, "Michael, what's the big deal? You act like somebody drowned." His eyes wide, he replied, "It's your brother!" Amanda and Katie both began frantically scanning the ocean, trying desperately to get a glimpse of their brother. They, along with the rest of the youth group, came stumbling out of the water, fear making their hearts sink lower and lower as the facts became clear: Dale and another boy were missing.
Within a short time, the other young man, Aaron, had been rescued from his distress by Shannon Kissel and brought back to shore. Mr. Kissel and his daughter, Nicole, were near our youth group, getting in some last-minute boogie boarding before she had to return to California. They heard the boys' cries for help and immediately responded. Mr. Kissel struck out after Aaron, telling Nicole to stay put. She didn't listen, deciding to go help the other boy in distress---our son Dale. When Shannon Kissel returned to the beach with Aaron, he was told Nicole was out there trying to save Dale. Exhausted, he allowed our youth pastor, Bro. Jon Minge, to take his boogie board and go look. We know from Nicole's account that she reached Dale, helped him onto her board, secured herself on top of him (we'll worry about cooties later!), and told him to start kicking for shore. The waves were against them, however, and one giant one slammed into them, knocking them off and into the water again. Nicole said she reached around, felt Dale, and shoved him toward the surface. When they broke the surface and spotted the boogie board much closer to shore, she said, "We have to swim for it." She and Dale began swimming, trying to make it to the beach. Nicole told us she looked back once and Dale was swimming strongly with her; she reached the board and looked back, and he was gone.
In that instant, our world changed. Gone was any idea we had that we could somehow shelter our children from bad; gone was the "I'm sure they'll be fine" attitude whenever the kids wanted to do something or go somewhere. We could no longer pretend that we were in charge. Suddenly, it became very clear that God was the only One Who mattered. Our lives---the life of our son---was so obviously in His hands, as it had been all along. We live our lives as if we are the ones at the controls when, in truth, God is the Master Organizer. God is the One Who makes the decisions. Our only decisions involve how to respond to His choices. Will we follow Him as we should or will we rebel? All at once, the only thing that mattered was what God wanted. Don't get me wrong---Chad and I cried and prayed and talked that whole way down to Doernbecher, telling each other and God over and over that we trust Him no matter what. We asked God to spare our son's life but only if that was what He knew to be best. Repeatedly, like a broken record (does anyone still know what that is?), all throughout those initial traumatic days and continuing throughout the months that followed, we prayed, telling God we trust Him and waiting for His results.
And didn't God perform one incredible, unbelievable, life-changing, undeniable miracle? God raised our son from the dead. Dale was dead when they carried him out of the water. All of the rescuers said so. They looked at one another and said, "This is a fatality." And they shook their heads because they hated to see that happen, hated to have to break the news to the frantic adults, hated to have to smash the hopes of those teenagers on their knees in the sand. The paramedics at the beach did what they could to restore life to Dale's body, but nothing they tried availed. When he left the beach in that ambulance, he was still not breathing nor was there any pulse. Not until they reached Ocean Beach Hospital were they able to establish a heartbeat. At any time after pulling him out of the water, they could have determined that he was too far gone to warrant continued efforts. I believe those praying teenagers affected their hearts, causing the paramedics to continue their efforts. God used those front-line Christians to help work His miracle in Dale.
Once a heartbeat was established and Dale had been intubated and stabilized, he was flown via LifeFlight to Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, Oregon. Again, God put the people in place who could best help Dale. The treatments used and care given Dale in those first few days were vital to his well-being. Everything, and I mean everything, was being done to insure his comfort and ours, to try to keep him alive. NOBODY expected Dale to survive, except God's prayer warriors. Why were the disciples so surprised to hear that Jesus had risen from the grave? Why were we so surprised when Dale opened his eyes? Why were we astounded when they pulled the tube out and Dale spoke? Our God is a God of miracles, people! He can do ANYTHING! And the proof is in our son. Just one look at him, and people know there is a God in Heaven Who cares about His children. They know that God can do anything if we pray. Mountain-moving faith!
My father had a plaque made and sent it to us this week. It commemorates Dale's drowning and miraculous coming back to life with these words: Dale/August 5, 2011/The LORD killeth, and maketh alive/I Samuel 2:6. Isn't that wonderful? Hannah is praying to the Lord at the dedication of Samuel, the child she prayed so long for. She makes the statement, "The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up." The Lord does, indeed, work in mysterious ways His wonders to perform. Had anyone asked me a year ago if I wanted our family to be used of God, I would have said, "Yes!" If they had said that we would have to endure hardship but that our family would be closer because of it, I would have still said, "Yes." If they had said that God would use our family to touch the world, but that we would have to endure tragedy for that to happen, I would have been doubtful. If they had said that God wanted to perform a wondrous miracle in our lives but that one of us would have to die first, I would have backed away. It's a good thing we weren't given the choice first, right? :-) It's very true that God doesn't give us more than we can handle, but it's also true that God knows us inside and out and believes we can handle a great deal more than we are usually willing to take on. We have a big God with big shoulders, and He wants to take our burdens for us, leaving us with the small but difficult task of simply trusting. I choose to trust. Will you?
Thank You, Lord, for another year with my son! Thank You for granting us the privilege of rearing him for You. May he someday be a shining light, pointing souls to Calvary. You are great and wonderful, God. You are the light of our existence. We love You, Father. Thank You for Your goodness to us.
Luke 15: 24 "For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry."