Hope in Tragedy – Shiloh’s Story

Even in tragedy, one family feels God’s peace

“I grew up in church, practically born on a pew,” Chad Smeaton said. Someone was always playing Family Life Radio on the in the radio, in the car. And we always had it on with our children.”

Summer says her story is the same. She also grew up in church. “My mom always had Family Life Radio on. I have listened to Dr. Randy Carlson and Intentional Living for twenty plus years now.”

Chad and Summer made the decision to move their family of seven from Michigan to Tucson at the end of October 2021. Chad said, “It was a big decision for our family, but we felt like the Lord was leading us, and He opened up some great opportunities for us.”

Summer’s parents relocated to Tucson from North Carolina first. Chad and Summer agreed the move would allow the kids – Cadence 17, Shiloh 15, Zion 13, Haven 12 and Brad, six months – to be near their maternal grandparents and her side of the family more.

“Moving our family, mid-school year – it was stressful … the kids already had their friends – established connections. It was a lot of change in a short amount of time,” Summer recalls.

They decided to homeschool the kids and tried to get them connected in their new community by joining their local church. “It’s definitely been a bit of a transition,” Chad continued, “especially for the kids, who have had to make new friends, but we’re trying to focus on being intentional and responsive in our interactions and relationships.”

Chad and Summer agree the parenting discussions on Intentional Living have been so extremely valuable. One of their biggest takeaways – is choosing to respond rather than react, and they find the worship important too.

Candid Truths

At times they wondered if they’d made the right decision as they hit walls and fought an uphill battle. The Smeatons continued to stress about their children making friends. Chad and Summer knew for teenagers, that’s not an easy thing.

But in the midst of the struggle, Summer said, “because of God’s grace and the goodness of His love, confirmation after confirmation would pop up and reaffirm our decision.”

Depression is a part of Summer’s story. She admits she’s been very open and candid with her children about her journey. She said, “I feel depressed, and sometimes have suicidal thoughts. So, I know it’s important to plug them into to the right counselors and get them the right help.”

Summer said, “Shiloh was hesitant and kind of fearful about meeting new people, but also excited because he knew his father and I weren’t going to make a rash move and just disconnect everyone from their friends and their schools.”

“Before the move,” Summer continued, “Shiloh went through a physical transformation. He used to be kind of a husky kid. Unfortunately, he was bullied for it. It opened a door for insecurities and just lack of self-confidence.”

Summer acknowledged, “It’s stressful. You’re fifteen years old, and ask, ‘Am I going to be accepted? Am I going to have friends? And Am I going to be bullied here?’” She knows the enemy used those negative thoughts to distract Shiloh from the truth and the enemy used that to whittle away at the confidence that he had gained after losing weight.

Chad took the initiative to check in with Shiloh. He asked “How are you? Where are you at?” Together the Smeatons parented proactively and checking in and asking, “What’s your mental space?” To which they say Shiloh would typically always say he was okay.

Summer Smeaton says Wednesday, January 12, 2022, initially played out like any other ordinary day. Shiloh wasn’t feeling well so she let him sleep in a bit before getting up to work on some homeschool assignments.

“He seemed fine; he seemed okay,” Summer recalls. He got something to eat, logged on to his computer and realized he was missing some English assignments. Summer said, “I was getting onto him about what he needed to turn in … reminded him he had soccer practice.” The plan was to get ready and take Shiloh to soccer practice.

Breathtaking Heartbreak

Shiloh took his soccer bag and went into the bathroom, and Summer said, “I’m thinking he’s getting ready for soccer practice.” But, he wasn’t getting ready for soccer practice.

Summer stepped outside for a minute. And when she came back in, her daughter Cadence was coming down the hall, crying so hard she couldn’t catch her breath. Summer said, “She couldn’t communicate anything.”

And finally Cadence said, “I think Shiloh hurt himself.”

Summer ran to the bathroom door, and called his name, but there was no answer. She busted the door open and found Shiloh in the bathtub. She saw a note on the ground with the gun.

“All that I could think of was to speak life over him and pray because growing up in church in having faith – that’s what I knew.”

Even as Summer made the 911 call, she says a sense of peace came over her. She believes it was the Spirit of God intervening and bringing some sense of calm to her so she could communicate to the emergency response team. Her children were all doing school. It was traumatic for everyone as she was on the phone with 911, calling Chad to let him know, continuing to pray over Shiloh and putting pressure on his wound.

In that moment, Summer continued to believe death would not take him.

At the hospital, Summer was told right away not to expect life and to prepare for that.

“But knowing the God we serve and knowing that miracles are still for the living, I believe it was my heart as mom fighting and warring for my son.” Summer did not accept the doctor’s report but continued to speak life and believe for a miracle until the very end.

“I know the miracles are not just in the Bible, but I heard them all throughout my life. And so, why not believe that for us? Why not believe that for my son?”

Summer still knows God as the God of Miracles, even though it didn’t happen for Shiloh. “He is faithful, and I don’t understand,” Summer said. “I’m not going to pretend that I have healed. But sharing Shiloh’s story is a part of our healing. I’m not whole,” Summer said. “I still feel very broken and shattered. I have days that are harder than others. I have days I don’t feel like I’m going to make it, but God is giving me strength.”

God is giving the Smeaton family strength. They see glimpses of God’s mercy and His faithfulness even in this. It is their hope that God can put purpose to their pain through what they share.

They hold fast to Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (NIV).

Summer says it feels very much like a wilderness season. “I don’t feel [God] right now. I know He’s there. I know God is faithful. I know He’s not left us. He’s not forsaken us. I know that because I walked it before. And every time in retrospect … I didn’t experience His presence, but now I see Him in these little areas.”

“We lost our son; our lives will never be the same. We are forever changed, but even in tragedy, we feel God’s peace. Even in this, we feel His love.”

The Smeatons have experienced support and love from a body of believers in the community. People that they don’t even know offer support and encouragement. And they want to offer God’s comfort and peace to others through their own tragedy.

If you or if you know someone struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are resources available for you and your friend. Often, Christian pastors and counselors are excellent sources to call. Attempting to tackle suicidal thoughts on your own as the victim or helper can be challenging, if not unproductive. There are qualified people who can help you. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline by calling or texting the numbers 988 at any time, day or night 24/7, to visit with someone who understands.