On a Sunday afternoon five days before Christmas, Mick Yoder was watching football at his home in South Carolina. The phone rang. A couple that he and his wife ate dinner with the night before invited them to go for an airplane ride. Mick's wife declined, preferring to stay home and wrap presents, but Mick took two of their four sons, Benji, 8, and T.R., 5.
After about an hour of flying it was time to return to the airport. For reasons that still aren't clear, the small airplane lost power during its final approach and crashed into the embankment just short of the pavement. Mick Yoder and T.R. were critically injured. Benji died within moments of impact.
This accident, which took place in 1981, thrust the Yoder family into a crisis unlike any they had known. Suddenly Helen had to cope with her husband and son being hospitalized for three weeks. She had to continue raising Luke, her 10-year-old, and David, her 2-year-old, even as she also cared for T.R. when he came home with both arms wrapped to his body and his jaw wired shut.
But the Yoders' greatest challenge was learning to live without their second son, who had delighted his reserved parents by acting like a ham in public. Losing Benji was the kind of tragedy every parent fears most.
"It's horrible," says Mick, a former pastor who now travels widely teaching at marriage conferences. "It's like somebody cuts you down the middle and rips your guts out."
While the Yoders' tragedy might have been unusually severe, few marriages survive for long without having to navigate the turbulent waters of a crisis. Sooner or later, challenges appear that threaten our most cherished relationships. The death of a loved one, a serious illness, a job loss, permanent disability, and other crises can stretch even the most loving relationship to the breaking point.1