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The Story Behind Valetta Steel Crumley



“How did you survive?” is the question people often ask.  I write to share God’s amazing grace, His “manna” in the wilderness.   He never wastes our pain or sorrow.

I boarded the plane in Los Angeles with my two children – Lorna, now minus her two front teeth, and Leon, so tall for his eight years. The children reminded me of many happy years with their father, Henry Steel. Within one day, I would be seated on the front pew of the beautiful church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for my husband’s funeral.

I had met Henry Steel at the age of sixteen, and my life became brighter, for I trusted his judgment, loved his sense of humor, and admired his Christian faith.  We had worked on the school paper and yearbook together, and after the chimes of wedding bells, our career as pastor and wife began in the quiet country town of Sherwood, Michigan.

When I entered the Kalamazoo church, God took my hand, and a host of friends surrounded me.  As the service progressed, it seemed as though the Lord opened my eyes and I saw Henry triumphant, no longer burdened with pain, running to meet his Lord.  Christ with outstretched arms, was saying to him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

I knew he had fought a good fight, for I had watched him continue to preach though weakened from the cancer.  He had caught a glimpse of the glorious resurrection and the many people dying without God’s amazing love.   In spite of tears, my heart was filled with praise to our Lord who had made this victory possible.

But what about me?  Could I put the pieces of life together?  Could life ever be meaningful again?  I read Christ’s words: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. Words that seemed to mock me.  My need was too deep.  The heartache and loneliness too great.

In a moment of desperation, I turned the future over to Him – my emotions, my children, my desires, and my career.  I asked Him to make life worthwhile and abundant in Him. Upon returning to Los Angeles, I struggled to discover my identity.  Who was I, really?  Shy and reserved, could my life change?  Could I accomplish new dreams? I accepted a speaking tour to the Pacific Northwest where we had been mission representatives.  With help from a friend, I presented a slide story of our trip around the world, completed just days before Henry Steel made his journey to heaven.

When One Mission Society moved back to Greenwood, Indiana, the Lord challenged me again.  Both Leon and Lorna were thriving in school and in the local church, and Pastor Riggs from an inner city church asked me to teach and lead the college and career ministries.   Again, I said, “yes.”

God was faithful.  Leon enrolled a semester early in college, and after several weeks, I had a welcome call.  “Mom, would you mind coming to get me?  I have a free weekend.”  Eagerly I drove my Montego around the beltway and took Hwy 70, heading west to Greenville, Illinois. By the time we left the college, we had acquired three more passengers, students needing rides home to Indianapolis and a friend Leon had invited for the weekend.

As we approached Indianapolis, it was getting colder. A dome of light glowed against the low cloud ceiling.  After unloading our passengers in the cold rain, we headed south to One Mission Society headquarters and our big white apartment building. After dinner, Leon and his friend invited Lorna to join them for some bowling. It seems somehow incongruous that the days which irrevocably change one’s life on earth should be filled with ordinary events; the rising of an ordinary February sun, an office filled with ordinary conversations, the sound of telephones ringing and car doors slamming.

Now, looking back and reliving those final precious moments, it still seems wrong that the valley should approach that way. Half an hour later, the doorbell summoned me to the front door to look wonderingly in the face of a blue uniformed police officer.

“Are you Mrs. Steel?” he began slowly as though groping for the right words.

“Yes, I’m Mrs. Steel.”

“Mrs. Steel, it’s getting colder.  The rain is turning to ice.  There has just been an accident on the Hwy 37 bypass.  I’m sorry to have to tell you that your children and their friend have just been killed.”

* * * *

My name is “Valetta.”  All my siblings had ordinary names.  Why is mine Valetta?  After the writing of our second book, “Thrice through the Valley” I discovered my name in Italian means “valley.”  Somehow God has called me to tell the story of his grace in the valleys.  The first time was losing our precious little blonde Danny with leukemia.  The second valley was Henry’s journey heavenward.  Now, the third journey seems impossible – losing my remaining two precious children.

Luke 1:37 states “For nothing is impossible with God.”  I believe in miracles because He has taken me through the valleys.  There are secrets to be found in the valleys as well as on the mountaintops. I love telling the stories of God’s goodness in both.


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