Walking through hell – one year later

IMG_4690 - Version 2Deciding whether to even write this blog had been one of the harder decisions I’ve ever made. It was one year ago that our family experienced the greatest trauma of our lives. A violent intruder, recently released from prison, brutally assaulted our daughter-in-law and kidnapped and assaulted our four-year old granddaughter. This led to a nation-wide manhunt and she was miraculously rescued several states away, thirty-six hours later. There are still tens of thousands of websites, photos, videos, and articles online about this whole ordeal.

We had flown through the night to the East Coast to be with our son and his family, and were with him that next evening when he got the phone call from the FBI that our precious little granddaughter had been rescued. That moment was the complete antithesis of our nightmare – the greatest sense of relief and joy we have ever experienced even as all the local and national news media was broadcasting our family’s ordeal constantly.

Those thirty-six hours were, quite frankly the closest thing to ‘hell on earth’ I have ever experienced. In the early hours of the morning, while quickly packing our suitcases before leaving for our flight to be with our son and his family, I had briefly hid from my wife in our laundry room where, in the dark, and through desperate tears, I told God that if my precious granddaughter was not found alive, I did not think I could serve Him anymore.

After the extraordinary news that she had been rescued and was safe, my family ‘statement’ on Facebook ended up being shared and read 27,000 times. This was something we could have never anticipated, nor was it anything I had ever desired!

In the days following, we were barraged with media request, and I was even offered opportunities to speak at churches and share “the story.” Yet, I knew the “story” was also a story of assault and abuse and a lot of recovery that I simply could not reconcile personally, or theologically.

So, one year later, our family is recovering… we’ve spent time with therapists, we’ve embraced God’s grace in this nightmare, but at the one-year mark, I find myself still very reflective.


God is not silent, even in the silence.

It was my trauma therapist who said to me, “Even when you were threatening God, in the midst of your trauma, you were still in a conversation with God, and that counts for something!”

I’ve traveled around the world, many times over, but the initial middle-of-the-night two-hour flight to Chicago, on our route to Charleston, South Carolina, was the longest flight of my life. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t rest; all I could do was worry and despair! With my earphones on, I fingered through various playlists on my phone and landed on the classic song, “You are my hiding place,” based on Psalm 32:7, and sung by the vocal band, Selah. I played that song over and over as I sat on that plane. Somehow, God was telling me, ‘it’s ok, I’m here.”

God actually wants a relationship with us after all!

I was a pastor in the Jesus Movement and for several decades following that revival.  Over twenty years ago, I was president of our local evangelical association and I was the ‘guy’ who was often quoted in the newspaper when evangelical / biblical issues were addressed. At times I have probably lived in that ‘ivory tower’ of academia and theology that people talk about. I always had a ‘thoughtful,’ even provocative answer or response to their questions.

As it turns out, the bumper stickers were actually correct – I have come to understand that God wants relationship with people, not with theology, policy or political positions!

I came to appreciate that God wanted me, with all this ‘stuff’ I was going through, to just be in relationship with Him!

Don’t compare someone else’s crises or trauma.

It’s always the temptation, to begin a conversation with someone who has experienced trauma or loss, and start with ‘I understand what you’re feeling, because I…” No, actually you don’t understand, neither did I, so please don’t do that.

It’s true that St. Paul told the Corinthian believers that because of the struggles and difficulties they had experienced, they would be able to comfort anyone with the ‘comfort you yourselves received from God.” But comfort is not comparison, nor is it trying to give answers when there really aren’t any. Comfort is your kindness, your presence (when appropriate) and your commitment to loving them, praying for them, and being available.

There is great help out there! Get help when you need it!

Quoting the Apostle Paul again, he told the church in Galatia to ‘bear one another’s burdens.’ Yet, just a couple sentences later he seems to contradict himself, saying “and each one should carry his own load.” Putting my theologian hat on for a moment, I would note that these two sentences have very different words in the original Greek language. The ‘load’ that everyone should just ‘carry’ is much like a little ‘day pack,’ in other words, day to day, we all have our challenges and responsibilities, so just carry them! But, in that first sentence, the ‘burden’ we are told to help one another carry is akin to a massive millstone, something so heavy, so monumental, that if others do not help, it will crush us!!

I was embarrassed to actually call the trauma therapist to make my first appointment. I am glad I pushed through my own personal awkwardness because, quite honestly, he was used by God to help rescue me from what was becoming a very dark place in my mind and imagination. Someone once responded to the question if ‘therapy was helping’ by simply saying ‘yes, the help helped!’ I would agree! Get the help you need!

The future

I find myself more reflective, some of the things that used to really agitate me don’t have the power they used to have in my mind. I feel very blessed, though a little bit broken, and I think that’s ok. After all, I don’t want to end this life with people talking about how I was some great thinker or preacher or writer, I want people to say that, even if only in a minuscule way, I was ‘like Jesus!’

11 thoughts on “Walking through hell – one year later

  1. Honestly, I had no idea the magnitude of what you and your family was going through. Your Preaching that Connects class was one of my favorites. Whether you knew it, you were effective and impactful in the midst of your most trying time. Thank you so much for thinking of us and sharing your powerful and insightful wisdom, which I am now convinced can only be gained on the other side of the wilderness.
    I am beyond thrilled that all is well and your family is progressing in healing and wholeness. The Father is faithful and His reckless abandon for His kids is evident even when we cannot see it. I pray for continued blessings for you and your family. You are loved and the pleasure of being taught by you was mine.

    Your sister who has the same Daddy,
    Ali Crater

    • Thank you Ali… it was all very surreal… I was in the middle of the course I was teaching when all of this happened. The administration of the university could not have been more helpful, supportive, or accomodating, but I didn’t feel it was ‘appropriate’ to dump it all on my students at the time… I appreciate your kindness!!

  2. I can’t even try to know how you and your family felt during that awful event.
    All I know all of us that were praying for a miracle then should be praying for healing for you and your family.
    I have always respected you as a leader and teacher.

  3. Thank you Dr. Steven for your decision and courage to share with us this tremendous story.. for our good, help and encouragement! My prayers of comfort and strength are with you and your loved ones, more so these days!

  4. Steven, my heart aches for what your daughter and grand daughter and family went through. I pray that God will miraculously erase the impact of the memory of it. I will continue to pray for your family fervently for healing in all areas. God has you all by his right hand. I really am lost for words, not knowing what to say to comfort your ongoing healing. I will just pray and be here for you when needed.
    Psalm 34:17-18

    Dr. Markow and I are praying for you.

  5. Steve,
    The raw emotion and tears I am shedding as I read this is only a small portion of what you and your family have endured. I never stopped praying for all of you but in those dark moments I wanted to question God and ask why? What does He want us to take from all of this? I am still struggling with all of it and praying for healing for all of you. Thank you for sharing this with us. I love all of you. My heart still aches for all of you.

  6. Thank you for sharing. I could never imagine how that must have felt. God never promised we wouldn’t have to endure some awful things, but he did promise He would never leave us not forsake us. Praying for healing and restoration for you and your family.

    Be Blessed
    Caroline Johnson

  7. Dr. Todd, I remember first finding out about this horrible event. Tina and I sat and cried as we thought about the turmoil that each of you as mom, dad, grandparents, siblings, etc must have been going through. And now, I imagine the memories invade some of your most peaceful moments and steal the peace away, albeit temporarily.

    Tina and I continue to pray for you and your family as you walk through this trauma. Know that there are people out here lifting you all up before God and are asking Him to reach in with his healing hand to bring peace where there is turmoil.

    • Pastor Mike, thank you so much! We truly did (and continue to) feel those prayers, literally from around the globe! We are humbled and grateful for you and Tina and for so many others! We’re doing ‘ok,’ and we are still trusting our Savior, the one whom we can all trust!!

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