Our choir sang a song Sunday morning in church titled "My Tribute." Have you ever heard of it? The first few lines are: "How can I give thanks for the things You have done for me---things so undeserved yet You give to prove Your love for me? The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude!" This perfectly sums up my feeble attempts to thank our wonderful Heavenly Father for His blessings my whole life but especially in these last years.
You see, four years ago this morning, I waved goodbye to my three oldest children as they boarded the church bus for an outing at the beach. I hugged them quickly and we threw "I love you"s at each other before they slammed the car doors shut and raced to join their friends. My son Dale stopped outside my window long enough to form his hands into the shape of a heart and wait for me to return our secret signal of love. My two oldest girls were excited to be spending some time outdoors and hoping to get a tan while Dale was just thrilled to be part of the youth group, having just exited sixth grade two months before. I pulled out of the church parking lot and headed for a friend's house to drop off my two younger girls, already contemplating how I would spend this unexpected free time with no kids around.
I think back to my activities of that day in bemusement, thinking how foolish and self-centered I really was. I spent some time in the hot tub, took a leisurely shower (all moms know how rare that is!), and then cleaned my glass back door before applying summery gel window clings. If I had only known what was transpiring three hours away......
The teens had all been warned before they got off the bus not to go out deep into the water. This was not a swimming activity; they were just supposed to be wading and splashing around. Amanda, my oldest, had been charged before she left with the task of keeping an eye on her young brother. Dale was 12 and crazy, and I felt like he could benefit from all the looking after he could stand! She and Katie had been with the girls just down the beach, playing and having a good time, but Amanda was careful to regularly glance over at the guys' group, pinpoint Dale's location, and make sure he was all right. The day was beautifully sunny, the water was refreshing, and the kids were in high spirits. It was a perfect day for a teen activity.
It was about halfway through the afternoon when one of the guys came racing over to the girls' group, screaming at them to get out of the water. They brushed him off, saying they weren't out too far. When he persisted, they said, "What's the big deal?" His response silenced their laughter. He said, "There's somebody in trouble out in the water, and it's your brother!", pointing at Amanda and Katie. Immediately, fear and nausea welling up inside them, they turned to frantically scan the water, desperate for a sight of their brother. Anything to cancel out the horrible news, anything to dispel the growing terror. Mandie felt guilt wash over her as she realized it had been a while since she had checked on Dale. Their scouring gaze revealed only that the guys were already out of the water and on the beach, huddled in groups, while Bro. Jon, their youth pastor, had waded out as far as he could to search for signs of Dale. The same fear and disbelief was etched on each face. This wasn't supposed to happen to somebody they knew. It wasn't supposed to happen to a church kid. It wasn't supposed to happen to them.
How do I say thanks for the godly teachers, principals, youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, parents, and grandparents who had spent countless hours instilling in our young people the fact that there is a God in heaven, that He hears us when we pray, that He is able to move heaven and earth to do His will, and that He cares about each and every one of us. Those teenagers dropped to their knees, some their faces, on the sand and began to beg God to save Dale. He was lost out in the ocean somewhere, fighting for his very life, and our youth group, through fear and tears and despair, called out to the One Who holds us in His hands. They were the first responders that day, beseeching God with weeping and wordless cries to spare Dale's life, to at least let his body be found.
How do I say thanks to our incredible church leaders who were there on the worst day in our family's lives? How do I express my gratitude for the love and prayers and money and tears and hugs and smiles and visits and encouragement and support they gave us then and have continued to give us? They stood with us in the hospital waiting room, asking our forgiveness for letting this tragedy happen to our son while under their care. I don't think they truly understood then what Chad and I tried to tell them---that we don't blame them for the accident, never have. That we believe that God set in motion the events of that day and the days following so that we might bring honor and glory to Him. We admire those leaders for their strength and courage that day, helping that busload of teenagers to cry and grieve and pray and heal that oh-so-long bus ride home that afternoon, then turning around to drive right back so that they could be with us in Doernbecher, standing around Dale's bedside, pacing the halls, praying, praying, praying. Roy and K'arin Hanson, you wrapped my heart in your words and cried with me. Jon Minge, you took your life in your hands when you went back in the water to look for my son. I still have that picture of you waist-deep in the ocean, searching for my boy. I will never forget that as long as I live. Whitney, you stood beside me without speaking, just let your prescence comfort me. Preacher and Mrs. Minge, you reacted to the dreadful news as if Dale was your own son, as I know you feel. You took our two girls in your truck, wet and sandy and disheveled, bought them clothes, drove them to Doernbecher, then stayed with us while Chad and I broke the news that the doctor was not giving us any hope. You cancelled VBS that next week because you didn't think anyone would be able to work it; there were so many people day after day, busloads and shuttleloads of church family who came to visit. Preacher, you let us see how hard Dale's drowning hit you when you talked about having to get up and preach on Sunday with that heaviness in your heart. Accounts given tell how you stopped the service early Sunday night so that people could pray.......and nearly the entire congregation left their seats and poured down the aisles to ask God to wake Dale up. Mrs. Minge, I hope you know how special you are to me. I cannot possibly tell you how much each word, each glance, each smile has strengthened my heart.
How can I say thanks to my wonderful church family who showered us with help, blessings, money, food, clothes, and love during those weeks in the hospital? To effectively list all those who should be mentioned, I refer you to our church roster. Every single person prayed or gave money or brought a meal or paid for school supplies or bought stuffed animals and blankets or just loved us. Jessica and Sarah Waugh, especially, stayed with us at Doernbecher and never left, paying for meals, taking our younger girls to the playroom and for walks, sitting with Dale so that I could get some sleep. My mom and dad came to visit, and Becky Welch and Becky Shattuck picked them up from the airport for us and drove them all the way down to Oregon. Tina O'Connor not only closed up our house for us so that we could leave right away for the hospital, but also took care of our dog, the library, and lots of little errands. Numerous calls and visits and cards and love flooded our way.
How can I say thanks for the continued love and support our family receives? Church family who stop by to ask Dale how he's doing, who continue to pray for God's perfect healing of our son, who tease Dale as he struggles to walk properly, who accomodate him in school and act like it's no big deal when really it's huge. Those who occasionally still stop to give me a hug or shake Chad's hand and slip some money into it. Who get behind us in the hallway and patiently wait the extra minutes it takes for Dale to navigate around the corners. Who would drop everything if we needed someone to help us......and have. Those of you who don't live nearby but pray with us daily. Those who have sent cards and letters and money and gift cards. Those who we may never get to thank in person until we meet at the Throne.
How. Can. I. Give. Thanks.....to the One Who holds our world together? If we did not have our God in heaven to cry out to when all seems black and death is imminent, how could we survive? If we did not have the promise of seeing our loved ones again, how could we continue to live? If we did not have eternal life through Jesus, how could we hope for anything? If we did not know beyond any question that God holds our future and does not tremble, how could we exist? If not for His tender mercy and comforting presence, how could we bear it? I know my God loves me. I know my God cares what happens to me and mine. I know my God cries when I cry and grieves when I grieve and stands strong when I am weak and holds me close when I cannot face tomorrow. I know my God's plan was for my son to die that day in the ocean, far away from me. I know my God changed His mind when He heard the prayers of people begging Him to show His mighty hand. I know my God loves my son and has a plan for his future, even though I cannot see it. I know my God is there. I know.
These are rhetorical questions. The answer is obvious: I can't. I can't say thank you enough. I can't express my gratitude enough. I can't show my thankfulness enough. I certainly can't repay everyone's love and kindness. And there is no way I can properly express my thanks to my God for Who He is, for being there when I needed Him most.....which is always, for loving my family, for giving me back my son. But I can try.
Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, with tears running down my face, with joy overflowing, both now and forever, thank you. Thank you for each prayer; thank you for each gift; thank you for each question; thank you for each card; thank you for each smile. You mean the world to our family.
And thank You, Lord. Just.....thank You, Lord. I love You.
Philippians 2: 13-16 "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain."