Faith, prayer built family after tragedy [The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind.]
(News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, IN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 09--Saturday, April 18, 2009, dawned clear and cool -- T-shirt-and-jeans weather.
Tea party members gathered to hear Alan Keyes on the Courthouse Green; the Komets were in the Turner Cup playoffs; and Scott and Rachel Amstutz were planning a celebration for daughter Aleah's sixth birthday.
The day ended with a grieving young father wrapping his children in his arms and trying to explain, "Mommy went to be with Jesus. She's no longer here."
In the weeks and months that followed, Scott Amstutz walked a path of pain and grief, clinging to his faith and the hope found in Romans 8:28: "We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose." In the next year, God revealed his plan -- a plan that restored the young family.
Building a family
Scott Amstutz met Rachel Allen when he was 21 and she was 19. They dated his senior year at Taylor University in Upland and married in December 1998.
The Allen family worked as missionaries to Indonesia, where Rachel contracted malaria at age 7 and nearly died.
"God kept her alive for a reason," Scott believes. "For most of our marriage, Rachel was the spiritual leader of our family, not me. She had a very strong relationship with God. That's why he put us together -- to help me understand what truth really is, to strengthen my relationship with God and to make my fellowship with (him) strong.
"All she ever wanted to be was a mom," Scott says. After Aleah's birth, son Bruce arrived, followed by Caynah Grace.
A tragic loss
Scott will never forget that night, eight days after Caynah's birth.
"I was sitting on the couch with my laptop," he recalls, "and Rachel was sitting over there, breast-feeding Caynah. All of a sudden, she started feeling a sharp pain in her arm, then her chest ... ." Rachel phoned her mother, a nurse, begging her to come immediately.
"Then she said, 'My chest is really hurting,' and I started to call the EMS," says Scott. "Then ... 'Scott, take the baby!' I grabbed Caynah, and she just laid her head down, stopped breathing and she was gone."
For nearly three hours, attempts were made to revive Rachel. Scott contacted Pathway Community Church, where he serves on staff. Calls, texts and e-mails requesting prayer spread like wildfire, and supporters crowded the hospital.
"I cried and prayed she would wake up," he says. "I wanted it to be a dream, but I knew it was reality."
An autopsy later revealed Rachel had died of mitral valve prolapse, a condition where the valve separating the upper and lower chambers of the left side of the heart doesn't close properly.
As he finally left the hospital, Scott glanced down the hallway toward the maternity ward where Caynah was born, remembering. "We were just here eight days ago ... in this same hallway ... .
"Our hearts are broken, but our hope is in Christ."
Coping with death
"In that first week, God gave me so much strength to be able to stand up and greet people and to comfort others," he says. "It was weird. ... I was giving them comfort."
The memorial service was a moving affirmation of Rachel's walk with Christ.
"It felt like Rachel and I were planning it together," he says. "I felt at peace. I knew exactly what songs I wanted to do, how I wanted to do it and who I wanted to speak. I wanted it to be a time of celebration."
After the funeral, the numbness wore off and the pain intensified. Pathway had arranged for physical needs to be met for food, laundry, housecleaning, child care and other necessities provided by church members. Family members pitched in, offering love and consistency as Scott and the children adjusted to a "new normal."
Several months after Rachel's death, Scott approached Pathway seeking advice about where to designate his tithe. A team member for a mission trip to Mozambique still needed funds, and he decided to make the donation anonymously.
Janelle Lehman was scheduled to spend the summer in Africa, ministering in Kenya, connecting with her Compassion International child, and meeting the Pathway team in South Africa in late July. When Scott approached her at church, asking specifics of the trip, she suspected he was the anonymous donor.
"I took pictures of all my friends and family," Janelle recalls, "and I would sort through them and pray over them while in Africa before bedtime." Among the photos was a picture of Scott, Rachel and the children.
Janelle also maintained a blog, chronicling her experiences and insights. As a supporter, Scott began following the blog, occasionally e-mailing her to say he and the kids were praying for her.
"I got closer to her by reading her blog and seeing her heart," Scott says.
Beauty from ashes
When Janelle returned, contact between them was casual, guarded.
"(My) counselor said I needed to take a year to process everything because there are a lot of 'first-year' experiences," says Scott, "and you want to make sure you are ready."
Love grew, however, nurtured by their shared faith, prayer and a growing sense of peace about their relationship. Then came a posting on Scott's Facebook page:
May 9, 2010: She said yes!
Aug. 28 was chosen for a wedding date because of the connection to Romans 8:28, says Janelle. Two weeks before the wedding, she posted on Facebook.
Aug. 11, 2010 -- I'm so thankful that God had you and the kids in the plans for me all along. All those years of waiting and waiting when I didn't want to wait was totally worth it. God took our hands and walked us through difficult times, knowing the happiness we'd feel now -- beauty from ashes. To think any differently is to underestimate God and His redemptive hand.
April 12, 2009 -- Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.
The children call Janelle "Mommy,"and in the spring there will be another child, "a honeymoon baby," she shares with a smile.
Their new life
Rachel's memory is cherished -- they visit her grave and release balloons, and each child has a special bedside "Mommy and Me" photo album. A memory jar holds cards with thoughts of Rachel inscribed on them, a gift from Janelle on Valentine's Day.
Scott Amstutz sought God in his grief and pain, and God responded to his prayers with support and encouragement from friends and family, a deep, abiding love for his children and a new life partner.
"The sadness I experienced is no longer where I am now," Scott says. "There is hope in Christ. Without faith in him, I wouldn't be here. God has blessed me. There will never be anyone like Rachel... and there will never be anyone like Janelle."
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Copyright (c) 2011, The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind.
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