Monday, December 17, 2007

Mount Hood climbers' families celebrate lives lived passionately

07:05 AM CST on Monday, December 17, 2007

By BRANDON FORMBY / The Dallas Morning News

Hope that Kelly James, Brian Hall and Jerry "Nikko" Cooke would be found alive disappeared a long time ago. It's been more than a year since the two Dallas residents and the Brooklyn man vanished while climbing Mount Hood in Oregon.

"We feel very blessed that we haven't lost hope that we will see them again," Mr. James' wife, Karen James, said Sunday. "You just kind of muddle through your time on Earth until you get to be with them again in heaven."

Ms. James, church leaders and friends of the three climbers spoke often of faith, passion and the importance of living life to the fullest during a candlelight remembrance for the men held Sunday. The service marked the anniversary of their disappearance and the subsequent rescue efforts that garnered national attention. More than 75 people attended the tranquil ceremony at Park Cities Baptist Church in University Park.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Mr. Hall's family gathered more than 2,000 miles away at their own candlelit observance – at the foot of the 11,239-foot mountain where Mr. Hall was last seen.

"Today I stand where Brian, Kelly and Nikko's journey began," Mr. Hall's sister Angela wrote in a letter read by a family friend at the ceremony here.

Mr. James and Mr. Hall, both of Dallas, and Mr. Cooke, of Brooklyn, went to the summit of the mountain in early December 2006. Bad weather closed in and 48-year-old Mr. James became injured. Mr. Hall, 38, and Mr. Cooke, 36, apparently left Mr. James in a snow cave to seek help. Mr. James later made a short cellphone call to his family, which fueled hope that he would be rescued. But he died of hypothermia while waiting for rescue teams slowed by severe storms. His body was airlifted off the mountain.

Mr. Hall and Mr. Cooke were never seen again. Subsequent searches for their bodies, including one exploration as recent as September, turned up nothing.

Dr. Jack Martin, a minister at Park Cities Baptist, read a letter from Mr. Cooke's wife, Michaela, during Sunday's service. In it, she described the three men as inspirations who brought "joy, passion and love into the lives they touched."

"Please continue to keep Jerry and Brian in your prayers and hope that someday they will be found," her letter said.

Messages from relatives, friends and church leaders focused less on grief and more on the strength gained from spiritual faith. Mr. James' daughter Katie said she had the words from Philippians 4:13 – "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" – tattooed on her arm after her father died.

"When I lost my dad, this verse came back to me, not for physical strength but for emotional strength," she said.

Many also praised the brave, adventurous and risk-taking natures of the men.

"They knew life is like the weather – it is unpredictable. But still, they climbed," said Gary Brandenburg, senior pastor of Fellowship Bible Church of Dallas, where the James family worships.

"They remind me that life is a gift. Each day is a package that should be opened immediately."

Mary Leslie Wells, a friend of Mr. Hall and his family, described the man known for rescuing stray animals and helping the homeless as a beloved personal trainer and soccer coach.

"He was a real gift from God," she said. "He was a true natural athlete."

Mrs. James said the loss of her husband was made more difficult because it happened so close to Christmas. But she also said she was thankful for the time she had with the man who proposed to her on Mount Rainier. During the service, she described Mr. James as a talented landscape architect and romantic, tender husband. She said he would often write her letters before going on climbs. In one, he said he would dream of coming home to her.

Mrs. James said, "Now I'm the one dreaming of coming home."

Siblings Katie and Ford James embrace at a remembrance ceremony at Park Cities Baptist Church for their father, Kelly James, and Jerry 'Nikko' Cooke and Brian Hall.
Karen James is pictured to the right.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Remembering—A Year Later

Sunday, December 16, 2007
Candlelight Ceremony
Remembering the Three Climbers:
Kelly James, Brian Hall, Nikko Cooke

4:00-5:00 p.m.
Park Cities Baptist Church
3933 NW Highway
Dallas, Texas

On December 12, CBS 11 in Dallas conducted an exclusive interview with Karen James and her family. To view the interview, along with television coverage of other events from this time last year, go to:

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Landscape Has Changed

Recently I heard author Donald Miller (a fellow-Oregonian) describe the perfect arrival by air into the Portland International Airport. It always includes a sighting of Mount Hood—breathtakingly beautiful as she towers above the forest covered Cascades. She dominates the landscape. I can't count the times I have peered out the window of a home-bound plane hoping to catch a glimpse of her. A warm almost-home feeling comes over me whenever I do.

This past August, when I flew home to visit my parents in Portland, Mount Hood didn't disappoint. The skies were clear, and she was all a-glow in the late afternoon sun. Other passengers in the plane were completely enthralled. But for me, this time the sight of her was painful.

We flew past the north face, the site of Kelly's snow cave, and instead of admiring her beauty along with everyone else, I could only think of how treacherous she can be, the grief she represents, and the fact that even now, somewhere in her snowy skirts, she still is hiding Brian and Nikko.

Years ago, my mother gave me a book by Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India. Carmichael was a forerunner of those today who are rescuing women from sex trafficking. She devoted her life to the rescue of little girls who were being sold into temple prostitution by their destitute families. Her activities were permanently curtailed (taken up by others) when a tragic accident rendered her an invalid for the rest of her life. It was a terrible grief. From a bed of pain, she reflected on a spring landscape—a photograph of an old ruin on a hillside that was covered with cherry blossom trees. Her words mean a lot more to me now.

The trouble which grieved the night has not floated off on the wings of the morning. There has been a turning of the captivity and the hard weather has passed, but there is still something stark in our landscape, like the ruin in the midst of the white cherry. There is a fact, a memory . . . that strikes up and faces us wherever we look. That knot of painful circumstances . . . These things still are; it would be a kind of falsehood to act as though they were not.

—Amy Carmichael, Gold By Moonlight, (36).

Today marks a year since we first learned that Kelly was in trouble on Mount Hood. Some things will never be the same. Even the landscape is different now.

We are amazed that so many still visit this website—that so many are still praying for the families and for the unfinished search for Brian and Nikko. Thank you for your friendship and for remembering what we cannot forget.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Search Resumes for Brian and Nikko

10:00 p.m. ET:

This Saturday evening report and video give information about Saturday's search and of the climbers' gear that was found. Obviously it is a big disappointment that they did not find Brian and Nikko today. At the same time, it is deeply encouraging that so many search volunteers turned out and that they haven't given up on their hope of finding and bringing the two missing climbers home and giving closure to their grieving families.

Here's another news report with a video that was filmed Friday before the search began:

5:20 p.m. ET:

Searchers located some of the climbers' gear stashed a couple hundred feet above where Kelly, Brian and Nikko started their climb.

12:00 p.m. ET:

Searchers are back on Mt. Hood this weekend looking for Brian Hall and Nikko Cooke. See these Portland area news reports from KGW and KATU for more information about today's search, along with articles and videos from December 2006:

Thanks for your prayers.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Disney, Dreams and Dancing in the Street

Contrary to all the television ads, summer is the wrong time to visit Disney World in Orlando. In summer, the weather is miserably hot and humid. You can get soaked (or zapped by lightning) in one of Florida’s afternoon monsoons. The place is jammed with tourists, and you’re sure to spend a lot of time standing in lines.

But when Jack, our thirteen-year-old nephew and the youngest of Kelly’s four kids, came to see us, none of that seemed to matter.

Our mid-afternoon decision to take an ice cream break just happened to coincide with Disney’s daily Main Street parade. We sat with our ice cream cones at a cafĂ© table off to the side from all the commotion, while Main Street erupted with a virtual Who’s Who of Disney characters scampering and dancing about, singing jubilantly: “Just believe and your dreams will come true!”

I felt a bit disoriented listening to the music, sitting there between my husband and my nephew who carry around with them an unseen ache and broken dreams that no amount of wishing on a star can fix.

In some ways it all seems backwards. I mean, shouldn’t Christians be the ones singing and dancing in the street? Shouldn’t we be the ones whose dreams are coming true, who are on top of the world? After all, we belong to God. We are His children—loved and pursued by Him. We have His promises. When trouble strikes, we know where to go for help. Yet here we sit on the sidelines with melting ice cream and broken hearts, missing Kelly, while others are dancing.

When Paul said, “we sorrow not as others,” he was reassuring us that the sorrow we experience in this world is mingled with the solid hope that sorrow won’t have the last word. Somewhere along the line, however, his words have also come to mean, in some sense, we sorrow less than others. Somehow, because of hope, we’re supposed to rise above our losses. We should have the strength not to fall apart or burst into loud sobs at the funeral. We should smile bravely, hold our heads up high, and show the world the difference faith makes at a time like this.

But when the loss is so personal, I wonder if the difference between how we and the world sorrow means that at some level we sorrow more, not less.

The prophet Isaiah described the Messiah as “a man of sorrows.” We see the man of sorrows when He weeps at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus didn’t weep because He was helpless to prevent Lazarus’ death or because He didn’t know what to do now that his friend was dead.

At one level, Jesus’ weeping reassures us that God doesn’t keep Himself at a safe emotional distance from the sorrows we experience. His heart is bound up with us. He is moved with compassion. He knows how the story will ultimately end. But He enters into our sorrows now and He weeps with us.

But is there a sense in which we, in our sorrows, enter into His greater sorrow? When God created the world, he didn’t allocate space for cemeteries, hospitals, counseling centers, or legal courts. He created a perfect world. And we have spoiled/are spoiling it. According to His original plan, Kelly at 48, Ruth Bell Graham at 87, the stillborn child, the young soldier returning home in a flag draped coffin are all cut short. And so, although God knows exactly what to do about it and has launched a global rescue operation to make sure His world is eventually put right, that joyful prospect doesn’t negate the enormity of His sorrow now.

We grieve individual losses, estrangements, prodigals, broken down lives, the shattered dream. He grieves a world of losses, a world of shattered dreams. We suffer the blinding ache of a parent over a prodigal child. He feels the same ache for a prodigal planet. His is the distress of a master craftsman over a masterpiece destroyed—for the way things are is not the way He meant for things to be.

And so for the moment, we sorrow more. We sorrow for our losses, for our corner of His fallen world. And in our sorrowing, we enter into His grief. We sorrow, but not as others who have no hope. Our hope is sure. And that means one day we’ll be dancing in the streets, even if we don’t feel like dancing now.


Friday, July 13, 2007

A Kindred Spirit

Frank and I came across this lament on The Internet Monk's blog and reprint it here with his kind permission and our hope that his honest, heartfelt lament will minister to you as it did to us.

I Miss You

How long, O LORD?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

—Psalm 13:1-2

I miss you God.

It’s like you’re not around.

I see your world. I’m with your people. I’m surrounded by books about you. I read about you and talk about you. I teach others about you.

But I miss you.

I believe you’re there. I believe the Bible. I believe in Jesus. I don’t doubt your existence at all.

I miss you.

You. Not your people, or songs about you or books about you. I miss you.

I don’t miss all the theology in the books, the blogs and the lectures. I don’t miss the points of all the sermons. Or the answers to questions.

I have all those. Far more than I need, to be honest. But when David says, “Why are you hiding from me?” I know exactly what he is talking about.

I’m missing you, God.

All of the activities that go on where you are talked about don’t bring you to me. Nothing that’s said or done in church fills this empty place.

When I pray, I feel like I’m talking, and that’s all. I don’t feel like I’m your child and you are there delighting in me. I feel you are far away.

It’s like you moved on and didn’t leave your address. It’s like we lived in the same house, but you’ve moved out without telling me where you went.

I cried out to you last night. Over and over. I want you to hear me. I don’t need to get your attention. I believe you’re close by. But I can’t see, sense or feel you. I feel alone. Like I am talking to myself.

I am starting to resent those who know you are close to them. Why am I different?

When I knew less, when I was considered young and ignorant, I felt you close to me. Then I grew up, and now I’m in the middle of life. It feels like I have lost you along the way. Somewhere in the crowd I let go of your hand, and now I’m alone. I’m calling out, but there is no answer.

There are people who will ridicule me for saying I want you. They will say I’m too interested in emotion. I don’t care what they say. This isn’t about my theology. My theology is as good as I can make it by all my efforts at study. No, this is about being able to stop and say “God is close to me. God delights in me. God is my friend, my father, my ever-present Abba.”

Where did you go? Why did you go away? Did my sins make you go away? Are you teaching me something? Are you taking away your presence so I will walk on, by faith, without you? Is this the “trough” C.S. Lewis wrote about? Will there ever be an explanation?

I’m weary of explanations and answers. I’m worn out with principles and illustrations. I’ve heard talking for what seems like an eternity and it doesn’t bring you closer to me.

When this happens, I hear voices telling me I shouldn’t need to feel you, and I shouldn’t even want to feel you. They will say I’m not reading and believing the verses. They will tell me I’m not trusting.

I may not be trusting you as I should. It’s harder and harder to trust you in this loneliness. It’s hard to turn away from this emptiness and tell myself you are real. I believe all of the right things in my mind, but my heart is aching to have you close to me again.

You’ve seen my tears. I don’t suppose they impress you. Maybe they are selfish, or sinful. I just don’t know anymore. Those tears are my way of saying I want you again. I want you in the way I experienced you before anyone said “He’s smart” or “He knows about God.”

I miss you so much.

Please come back to me. Please tell me what to do. Please.

Michael Spencer
The Internet Monk
July 12th, 2007

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Search Resumes on the Mountain

It has been quite a while since either Frank or I have posted anything. I'm realizing it isn't always easy to write about things so close to the heart, especially when the rest of life keeps moving at its usual hectic pace. On the outside, grieving takes a backseat to everything else, but on the inside there's an ache that never seems to go away. Which is, I guess, the reason so many of you keep coming to this website. At least here, we can admit we're hurting.

Since our last post, we have spent time with family members—Karen, all four of Kelly's kids, and Frank's mom. Everyone has good days and bad days. To be sure, there are moments when sadness sweeps over us and the tears flow. There are moments when we are bewildered by the mysterious ways of God. And there are moments when we miss Kelly so much it seems unbearable. But every day we forge on steadily ahead with our broken hearts. We all appreciate your prayers and expressions of love.

Uppermost on our minds now is the continuing search for Brian and Nikko. Sheriff Wampler told Frank they have never stopped searching by air. In June, the sheriff met with SAR teams to plan another search on the ground to take place in mid-July once the weather warms and Mount Hood sheds her snowy winter coat. Portland area temperatures were in the upper 90˚s Wednesday, so hopefully the warm summer air is working on the mountain. A search at lower elevations is scheduled for the weekend of July 21. Another search of the Eliot Glacier area, involving about 100 volunteer climbers with the Oregon Mountain Rescue Council, is planned for September 8.

For more details, see this July 10 report:

We will let you know if we hear anything. We are hopeful that they will be able to find Brian and Nikko and bring closure to their families and loved ones. I think Sheriff Wampler and the many volunteer searchers need the closure as well.

Meanwhile, please keep the sheriff and the searchers in your prayers.

Carolyn and Frank

Monday, April 9, 2007

Drifting Thoughts On Easter

Today we attended a beautiful Easter service, and the sermon was a vivid reminder that Jesus conquered death when he rose from the grave. We read the Nicene Creed with its marvelous stanza: “On the third day he rose again.” The dead body placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea had been lifeless on Friday, but on Sunday it was lifeless no more. By some other-worldly violation of natural laws, Jesus was breathing, talking, and walking in and among his astonished disciples. One doubtful disciple even felt compelled to put his finger into Jesus’ wound to convince himself that the crucified Jesus was indeed alive. It was hard to believe, but there before them all Jesus stood. The tomb was empty; death had been defeated.

During this uplifting sermon, my thoughts drifted (it happens to theologians too). Unable to reign in my mind (or was it my heart) I began to ask why the resurrection applied to Jesus, but not Kelly. Why did Jesus walk out of his tomb and Kelly did not? Both believed in “one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.” Both believed in the divine resurrection power. There was one irony. It struck me that when Jesus was buried, no one expected a resurrection—least of all his own disciples. But when we learned that Kelly was entombed in a snow cave at 11,000 feet, we publicly declared our hope and faith that he would come out alive—that there would be a kind of resurrection. I was devastated when Kelly was found frozen in death. I did not want to believe it. I wanted a resurrection, but it was not to be. Kelly was gone.

So what does the empty tomb of Jesus have to do with the snowy tomb of Kelly James? Everything. Kelly would have loved today’s Easter sermon because he confessed as I did today and as Christians have for nearly seventeen hundred years (since A.D. 325 when the Nicene Creed was written) that “We look for the resurrection of the dead.” Nicene Christians were not immune to the heartache of loss and grief. Over the centuries, and amid enough tears to fill an ocean, so many believers have had to bury loved ones in tombs. But they too hoped for a future resurrection.

As my mind wandered in the mists, I believed there was a profound and direct connection between the empty tomb of Jesus and the snowy tomb of my brother. I will henceforth say these precious words—“We look for the resurrection of the dead”—with a solemn hope and a new horizon in view. But I will not rest in peace until Kelly rises from the grave and leaves behind an empty tomb.

"For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost…But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:16-22).


Monday, March 26, 2007

Be With Me

Years ago, my family was rocked by the sudden death of my dad’s younger brother. This gifted physician, Christian leader in the community, larger-than-life personality, and centerpiece of our family was lifted out of our lives three weeks after he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

A memory of mine that stands out from events surrounding my uncle’s death is from the dinner at my aunt’s house following the funeral. Women from the church had prepared and were serving the meal. I remember, as they quietly moved around the table, that their eyes sometimes welled up with tears. I drew comfort from those tears back then, and the memory still touches me deeply today.

When I was a kid, a common Bible trivia question had to do with which verse in the Bible was the shortest. “Jesus wept” may have gotten a lot of attention for brevity, but it really deserves to be noticed more because it contains great wisdom in how to minister to the grieving. Instead of offering words of comfort to the distraught Mary who was grieving the death of her brother Lazarus (and Jesus surely knew the right thing to say), Jesus affirmed her grief and was with her in it. Jesus wept.

Surrounded by concerned friends after the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis, felt the need for something, but that something wasn’t words. “There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me,” he wrote. “I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

Several years ago, a friend of mine lost her baby in a terrible drowning accident. It is one of my deepest regrets that I didn’t go to her right away. I held back because I wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t have answers. I couldn’t explain the whys to her or think of words to lift her out of her despondency. What I know now is that my friend didn’t need me to talk. She needed me to be her friend—to be with her in her grief—to hold her and to weep.

Last week, Frank spent time with another man who lost a loved one in a climbing accident a few years ago. Afterwards, Frank told me it just helped to be in the same room with him.

Grieving, I am learning, isn’t an event. It is a process. Right now I have no idea how long that process lasts. For some, I can imagine, it lasts a lifetime. But perhaps by following Jesus’ example we can find ways to allow the grieving to grieve and to be with them in their sorrow.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Things People Say

Sooner or later, when grief is under discussion, the subject of the things people say to the grieving is bound to come up. Bringing it up here feels a bit like opening a can of worms—not just because of what other people (often well-meaning people, I might add) have said about the three climbers, but because, even as I write, insensitive comments I have made flash through my mind. At one time or another, probably all of us have said something with the best intentions that had precisely the opposite effect from what we intended.

I'm also mindful of family members and don't want to invite a discussion that might cause them any more distress. Still this is an important part of grieving that needs to be raised so we can all learn better ways of caring for those among us who are hurting.

One of the comments we've heard most frequently both during and after the tragedy on Mt. Hood is the fact that the three climbers chose to take serious risks, and so “Aren't they responsible for their own trouble?” Everything from Rosie O'Donnell and Bill O'Reilly harshly criticizing the fact that taxpayers were footing the bill for rescuing climbers (an unfounded charge according to SAR volunteers) to close friends wondering out loud whether, along with processing bewilderment over God's mysterious ways, we should also be contemplating the kinds of choices people make that result in tragedies like this.

While I admit these comments make me wince, there’s no denying that Kelly, Brian, and Nikko (experienced and meticulous as they were) were involved by choice in a dangerous and potentially deadly sport. Every member of their families feared the terrible phone call that finally came in December telling us they were in trouble on a mountain. So yes, our guys knowingly took risks and loved what they were doing. And despite our fears, we were proud of their achievements. Yet, although I certainly wouldn't encourage anyone to take unnecessary risks, at the same time, I wonder what life would be like on this planet if none of us ever took risks or pressed the limits of our physical abilities.

But to be honest, knowing the risks they took doesn’t help me make sense of what happened to them. Especially since, even at lower levels, the rest of us are taking risks and sometimes making disastrous choices. The simple fact is that whether we realize it or not we’re all counting on God’s mercy and grace to see us safely through the day. Yet even for those of us who remain sensibly at the foot of the mountain, tragedies still happen.

I’m in the middle of a book manuscript based on the Old Testament Book of Ruth—a story that opens with a sequence of tragic events. Some Bible interpreters have backtracked Naomi’s story to point out the places where her family strayed from the right path and onto the path that led to tragedy. Surprisingly neither the narrator nor Naomi assume that point of view. Questions raised in the narrative and openly voiced by Naomi, don’t center around her behavior, her husband’s or their sons'. They center on God.

Even in Jesus’ day, when a tower fell and killed eighteen people, Jesus carefully explained that those who perished were no more deserving of such a fate than anyone else and redirected His followers' attention away from evaluating those who perished to focus on the God who holds us all in His hands.

No matter what happens, we can't confine God to a formula. His ways are far more complex than that. Sometimes the roof caves in on people like Job who are doing all the right things. Sometimes blessings rain down on a rogue. And sometimes there’s a strong relationship between human actions and the eventual outcome. There’s no telling which way things will go. Which casts us all back on God’s mercy and leaves us to live in the realm of faith, not formulas.

Besides, when your loved one is in trouble—no matter how they got there—your only hope is that God will have mercy, and you pray desperately for a rescue. Sometimes He rescues, as He did for three climbers lost on Mt. Hood a week ago. They walked off the mountain in good shape. Sometimes He doesn’t, as with Kelly, Brian, and Nikko.

And when He doesn’t, you tend to set aside the history that led up to the outcome. You simply end up wrestling with God. Which seems to be what He intends all along.


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Piecing the Clues Together

[NOTE: I've updated this post to include the address of Tim Neville's intriguing article, "Search on Mount Hood: After the Storm," where he explains his theory about what may have happened to the climbers. You can read the article online at:]

Ever since Kelly, Brian and Nikko lost their lives on Mt. Hood this past December, climbing experts have been sorting through the clues and trying to figure out what may have happened.

In the March issue of National Geographic's Adventure Magazine, expert mountaineer Tim Neville (who reported on the search for Kelly, Brian, and Nikko for National Geographic & National Public Radio) weighs in on the discussion in his article, "Search on Mount Hood: After the Storm." The article, while painful to read at points, also makes a lot of sense and at least gives family and friends something credible to fill in the gaps of this story.

The same issue also includes a very informative interview with SAR veteran Steve Rollins of Portland Mount Rescue which answers some of the big questions non-climbers have been asking about major issues raised by the tragedy.

You can view photos of the search, the interview with Steve Rollins (I actually found two interviews with Steve), and several of Tim's reports during the crisis at:


Sunday, February 25, 2007

The LORD was with him?

Old Testament scholars tell us ancient Hebrew writers often use repetition to make a point. If this is true, then the point of Joseph’s story in Genesis is the fact that “the LORD was with him.”

When I ask myself what I would expect to result from a repeating statement like this, I know it wouldn’t look anything like what actually happened to Joseph.

Jealousy and hatred get the best of his half-brothers. They kidnap their father’s favorite son and throw him into a pit with every intention of murdering him. Then, in a so-called act of mercy, they sell him into slavery. Seventeen-year-old Joseph is chained and hauled off to Egypt. If his brothers were tried for such offences today, they’d all be serving time.

But Joseph’s troubles have only begun. Torn from his father, betrayed by his brothers, given up for dead—Joseph is habitually the victim of the treachery or forgetfulness of others. He is sold, falsely accused, and unjustly imprisoned. Twenty-two precious years with his father and his younger brother Benjamin are lost.

Then, when Pharaoh’s cup bearer is restored, and at last there’s finally a glimmer of hope, Joseph is promptly forgotten and left in prison for two more long years. I can’t imagine how profoundly dumbfounded Joseph felt.

Grief is the subtitle underneath Joseph's story. Later his brothers would be tormented by the memory of his desperate cries and tears. But how many tears were shed that they knew nothing about?

Our storybook versions of his sufferings don’t begin to grasp what he endured. The Psalms tell us “They bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons” (Ps.105:18). What was it doing to Joseph’s heart? We read his story in minutes. He suffered for years, and the scars remained with him for a lifetime.

Yet there it is—that simple repeating reassuring refrain, “the LORD was with him”—winding through Joseph’s story like a stubborn thread all tangled up with the misery and the utter sense of being forgotten. It’s hard to put it all together.

I don’t pretend to know how to make sense of it. It doesn’t fit the formula we usually hear and certainly not the one we want. All I can see is that these two conflicting realities coexist: God’s continuous presence with His child and heartbreaking calamity. If Joseph’s story can be trusted, our troubles are no proof that God isn’t around. And although this unleashes a whole new set of questions, still I find it strangely comforting.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Monday's Rescue on Mt. Hood

Monday's events bring it all back. Three climbers lost on Mt. Hood. High winds. Rescue workers taking to the mountain to find and bring them safely home. Anxious family members and friends praying and waiting.

Only this time the outcome was different.

News reports read: "Three climbers who tumbled off a ledge on Mount Hood were taken away in an ambulance after they hiked down much of the state's highest peak with their rescuers - and a dog who may have saved their lives."

We can only imagine the joy and relief of their loved ones at the safe return of these missing climbers. At the same time, we are painfully mindful of two climbers still on the mountain. For them we still wait, praying that searchers will find and bring them down off the mountain soon too.

Please remember the families and friends of Brian and Nikko in your prayers as they gather this week and next for memorial services. Details about their services are posted below, along with a new photo of Nikko, taken on the day of his engagement to Michaela. The family friend who sent the photo wrote:

"Thank you for your wonderful efforts in maintaining the blog--reminding everyone how special our guys were and keeping their memories alive. They were incredible men whose zeal for life, deep faith and reverence for the Lord's majesty, and absolute devotion to their loved ones reminds us all of the true meaning of living fully. [This] image of Nikko presents him as he is to us, a wonderfully charismatic, energetic, enthusiastic and friendly soul whose smile could melt away all your worries."

Brian's friends describe him as "a shining example of living each and every day of life to the fullest."

"From a very young age, his zest for life and winning smile were infectious. He turned each day into an exciting adventure, always testing his limits and discovering new talents. . . . He has scaled Mt. McKinley and Mt. Rainier in the U.S., as well as several peaks in the Andes of South America. Yet the summit of any mountain has never been his goal. Rather, the refreshing solitude, grueling physical and mental challenge, technical expertise, camaraderie with fellow climbers and the serene kinship with nature are what he has always cherished."

Visit their websites at: and

Feeling Better Yet?

After the death of a loved one—or any other sorrow or loss—there is the expectation in the minds of many Christians that the sorrower should put their grief aside and move on with their life. Our troubles are like hurdles placed in our path to test our spiritual fortitude. It’s a sign of spiritual maturity (so we tell ourselves) to rise above the pain or at least to conquer it at some point. The goal is to surmount successfully these miserable hurdles and get on to the smooth stretch on the other side. Someone who months or years later still feels depressed, still talks a lot about their loss, or whose eyes still well up with tears at the mention of their loved one, just doesn’t know how to let go.

As much as others expect it of us, no one wishes to walk away from grief more than the person who is grieving. And we are hard on ourselves when our broken hearts don’t heal. After the death of his beloved wife, Joy, to cancer, a broken C. S. Lewis admitted it was hard to get beyond his grief. In his poignantly personal book, A Grief Observed, he exposes the fallacy of this kind of thinking.
“To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off it is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. . . . At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.”
The intriguing thing about Lewis, and other suffers like Job and Naomi, is that the lingering pain is actually purposeful—actually opens a conversation with God (heated and intense at times to be sure), but one that wouldn’t occur otherwise. They’re asking questions about God that their pain provokes, and they’re looking at Him through their pain. Forever after a major part of them was always missing, and there was a distinctive limp to how they walked. Their lives were shaped and deepened and defined by their losses and the wrestlings with God that ensued.

If we’re not careful, we can use Scripture or one or two key theological precepts to short circuit that conversation. God’s sovereignty over our circumstances or over the number of our days doesn’t blunt hard questions about God, but rather provokes them. Why bother questioning God if He was wringing His hands over the weather on Mt. Hood? Why be upset with Him if He wasn’t around or if He was helpless to protect the three climbers from their deaths? No, God’s power, presence, and love are the very reasons we are troubled when He doesn’t intervene to spare us from painful losses, and we are swamped in grief.

Christian philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff, shared Lewis’ perspective when his son died in a mountain climbing accident. “The world has a hole in it now,” Wolterstorff lamented, “I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that dry‑eyed I could not see.”

Are we feeling better yet? No. Not really. For God and we have work to do. According to Lewis, there will always be a limp. According to Wolterstorff, there will be growth, and we will come to know God better. In the meantime, there are questions to be asked and wrestling to be done. But we have every hope that through our tears, we will see things that dry-eyed we could not see.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Remembering Brian Hall & Jerry "Nikko" Cooke

The families and friends of Brian and Nikko are planning memorial services to celebrate and thank God for the lives of these two men. As you know, Brian and Nikko are still on the mountain, and this has intensified the grief for their loved ones.

Many of you have continued to pray for them. Please keep these memorial services in your prayers as well—that they would bring comfort to the families and honor to these two beloved men and to their faith in God.

Brian Hall
Memorial Service

Thursday, February 22, 2007
1:00 p.m.
Highland Park Methodist Church
Dallas, Texas

A reception will follow.

Friday, February 23, 2007
6:30 p.m.
Brian's close friends and family will gather at Performance Playground.

Remember to pray for Brian's sister, Angela, and his parents, Dwight and Clara Hall.

Jerry "Nikko" Cooke
Memorial Service

Wednesday, February 28, 2007
3:00 p.m.
The Cathedral of St. Patrick
New York, New York

A reception will follow the service where everyone is welcome to share their sentiments with friends, family and colleagues.

Remember to pray for Michaela, Jerry's wife, and his mother, Maria.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Journey of Grief

[The following post is taken from Frank's message at the Reformed Theological Seminary/Orlando chapel service on February 6, 2007. ]

The past months have been harrowing for my family and for me. I am profoundly and deeply touched by the outpouring of prayers and support. Many have sent communications that ministered to my heart in very special ways.

I tell people who never met Kelly that they would have liked him. He marched to the beat of a different drummer. Not many in my circles knew I had a 48-year-old brother with hair down to his shoulders. His wife’s girlfriends called him Tarzan. He dressed like a rock star, and his musical taste ranged from Sinatra to Social Distortion. Of course his three brothers had no mercy and made fun of him regularly. It was like water off a duck's back. Our teasing never fazed him. Kelly was something I never was. Kelly was cool. He would have really loved all the media attention. It was just like Kelly to make a grand exit.

Although I did not share his flamboyant style, we did share a common faith that went back to our high school days. I know he is enjoying sweet fellowship with the Lord. But I must confess he leaves a big hole in my life.

Grief is a strange beast. Some who have lost loved ones tell me you never get over it. I guess I will find out. Now I am on the journey of grief. One might expect that the grief would lead to bitterness against God. After all, we prayed and publicly declared our faith in God, and yet Kelly is gone. But that has not happened.

There is disappointment, numbness, sadness and confusion. And yet, there is what I call a kind of gravitational pull toward God. No doubt that is the Holy Spirit drawing me. This gravitational pull especially has drawn me to the Psalms. David has become a companion in grief. There is something profoundly genuine about David who can say to God: “How long, O lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1).

Somehow David’s journey of grief always led back to God as he declares at the end of the same Psalm: “But I trust in your unfailing love” (Ps 13:5). Even as he pleads with God to “show up,” David acknowledges God. David combines brutal honesty with a defiant grasping faith. He juxtaposes disappointment with God and hope.

It is paradoxical that David would trust a God who hides Himself when David needs Him most. But I sense that David had different kind of relationship with God—a more intimate relationship than many American Evangelicals understand. It is honest and emotional. It is mysterious. It is a relationship where spiritual formulas and pious platitudes have no place.

David begs God to come to his rescue and David waits and waits—Have you ever noticed how many Psalms are about waiting? David anguishes and agonizes about his fate. Amid all this spiritual consternation, in the shadow of death, God manifests Himself in the grief. He is somehow in the disappointment, the confusion, and the raw emotions. This does not exactly make sense to me. I don’t understand this spiritual dynamic and I am not even sure I like it. But the gravitational pull toward God seems strongest when our hearts are broken.

I must remind myself to keep Kelly’s death in context. When Kelly died in mid-December, there were many other deaths that week and in far more tragic circumstances. Many died that same week in Darfur, and many young girls endured a living death in the sex-trade in Southeast Asia.

Kelly followed his passions. He enjoyed the freedom and possessed enough resources to pursue his passion for climbing mountains. He was very fortunate to go out doing something he loved. Many others died from genocide, brutality and persecution. I must not forget that there are things worse than freezing to death on a mountain.

RTS/O Chapel
6 February 2007

RTS/O Remembers

This past Wednesday, Reformed Theological Seminary/Orlando held a memorial service for Kelly—A Service of Lament and Longing. It was an unforgettable time of reflection, worship, sorrow, and hope. Both Frank and I were blessed by this gathering with the RTS community and other friends who joined us. Reggie Kidd, Professor of New Testament and a man who knows the sorrow of losing a brother, gave a heartfelt message from God's Word.

We'll be posting Frank's remarks here shortly and hope to have other portions of the service on this blog as well.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Poem by Rod Jellema
in the intro to Lewis Smedes' Memoir

I have to look for cracks and crevices.
Don’t tell me how God’s mercy
Is as wide as the ocean, as deep as the sea.
I already believe it, but that infinite prospect
Gets farther away the more we mouth it.
I thank you for lamenting his absences—
His absence from marriages going mad,
Our sons dying young, from the inescapable
Terrors of history: Treblinka. Vietnam.
September Eleven. His visible absence
Makes it hard for us in our time
To celebrate his invisible Presence.

This must be why mystics and poets record
The slender incursions of splintered light,
Echoes, fragments, odd words and phrases
Like flashes through darkened hallways.
These stabs remind me that the proud
Portly old church is really only
That cut green slip grafted into a tiny nick
That merciful God himself slit into the stem
Of his chosen Judah. The thin and tenuous
Thread we hang by, so astonishing,
Is the metaphor I need at the shoreline
Of all those immeasurable oceans of love.

[This poem came to us from our friend Judy Nelson,
who read it and thought of us. Thanks Judy.]

Death Be Not Proud

Yesterday we celebrated Kelly’s birthday. My brother Ben suggested we release balloons in Kelly’s honor. In Florida, we set our balloon free at precisely 9:53 am CT—the moment of Kelly’s grand entrance into this world in 1958—and watched as it floated upwards until we could see it no more.

Joyless, I muttered: “Happy Birthday Smelly Kelly”—one of the many irksome aliases I have bestowed on my little brother throughout his life.

There were tears and a heavy heart. Still there was a bittersweet satisfaction in acknowledging Kelly’s birthday. We love him; we miss him; we grieve his loss.

Death is ugly and we cannot, indeed should not, try to make it palatable or explain it away with pious platitudes. Death is a cruel reality in life—ugly, brutal and fearsome. It is an intruder and a thief. The vital living relationship I had with my brother is disconnected by death. Kelly is not returning my calls. I miss the sound of his voice. It is as if I am stumbling in the dark reaching out to find him, to embrace him, to laugh with him—all to no avail.

Kelly was created for life and had a fearless zest for living it. When death strikes suddenly with hurricane force winds at high altitude or hounds a ailing loved one mercilessly over time, survivors feel cheated and experience a kind of dizzy disorientation. Somehow we know in our hearts it is not supposed to be this way. Kelly was made for life and yet he is gone, swallowed by the mountain.

John Donne warned death not to be proud. Death will face its own mortality. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (I Cor 15:26). I believe death’s gloating grin one day will be wiped away forever. Until then I lament my brother.


Friday, February 2, 2007

February 2

Today is Kelly's birthday. He would have been 49.

Around the country, family members are remembering and missing him. At 9:53 am CT, we released helium balloons in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida to commemorate a day that has always been significant to us and now carries with it a tremendous sadness.

Once again we are grateful for all who have become a part of Kelly's story with us, by praying, hoping and now grieving with us.

And we thank God for forty-eight plus years of Kelly and the memories of him that we will always cherish.

Happy Birthday Kelly!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Where was God?

I must confess that I have been reluctant to write about my family tragedy. Death is a private affair, and yet Kelly’s death has been so very public, if the thousands of cards, calls, letters and emails are any indication. My reticence is largely due to the fact that I am still trying to make sense of Kelly’s death. I am still numb and disoriented. My days are little more than sleep walking.

Through the emotional fog, one thing has taken firm shape in my mind, namely the necessity to be honest with myself and with God. So Carolyn and I made the decision to talk about the “elephant in the room”—Where was God? Or to put the question more directly, where was God when Kelly was freezing to death on Mt. Hood?

Let me be clear—I am not calling God to account. God does not report to me. But it is an honest question posed from a broken heart. To my mind, to ask this kind of question is itself an act of faith. It presupposes a genuine relationship in which a mere creature can actually engage the Creator. If I can call Him “Abba,” can’t I humbly ask why He did not come to Kelly’s rescue? Not to ask this question—and other hard questions—would be a failure to take God seriously.

So, where was God? I don’t know. I don’t know. I may never know. Perhaps the biggest challenge for my faith is to come to terms with what Luther called the hiddenness of God (Deus absconditus). We contemporary Christians do not like to admit God sometimes hides from us. But David was unafraid to ask: “Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide Yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps 10:1).

As far as I know, God never answered David. However, the most astonishing and perplexing thing about David’s unanswered question was not that he had such questions but that God made the unanswered question a part of Israel’s worship for generations. It boggles my mind to imagine the people of Israel singing a chorus of “Why do you hide Yourself in times of trouble?” every year, century after century, millennium after millennium. And the question is still here for us to read and sing today. These are gut-wrenching questions and, I suspect, they should be read and sung with tears.

I am still trying to make sense of Kelly’s death. I don’t know why God did not rescue Kelly from the cold grip of the mountain. What I do know so far is that it is OK to ask: Where was God?


Sunday, January 21, 2007

What We Saw On The Mountain

The Oregonian (Portland’s newspaper) ran an article this week paying tribute to Sheriff Wampler—a man my family will never forget for putting his heart and soul into the search for Kelly, Brian and Nikko.

The article got me thinking again about the overwhelming response of people around the nation to the crisis on Mt. Hood. How does one explain such a phenomenon? Even people who got caught up in the suspense had a hard time figuring out what had drawn them in and why they cared so much about three men they didn't even know. Yet they watched anxiously and prayed throughout the ordeal. They wept along with the families when searchers located Kelly, then wept again when the rescue effort for Brian and Nikko shifted to recovery. Many tell me they are still grieving, even now.

I have wondered a lot about this myself and while I still don’t fully understand why this event captivated the nation, here are some of my initial thoughts about what happened.

First (and the Sheriff Wampler article brought this to mind) it seemed to me that for a brief moment in time we glimpsed on Mt. Hood something of the way things were meant to be. With three men in trouble, scores of people banded together to do whatever they could to rescue them. It didn’t seem to matter that they didn’t know the climbers or that many were strangers to each other. They were solidly united in one purpose: to get to the three climbers as soon as they could.

It was, I think, a riveting embodiment of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan—multiplied by the numbers of searchers heading for the slopes, flying overhead, piecing together available clues left behind by the three men, and caring for the families.

Some may find this surprising, but the media entered into the caring too. Frank told me many eyes brimmed with tears during news conferences. After the cameras were off, several of them came up to him and gently told him they were praying or that they hoped things would turn out well. Early on, when Frank was doing a CNN interview in the cold, a reporter offered his gloves. Afterwards, when Frank attempted to return them, the reporter insisted that he keep them. Frank had many heartfelt conversations with media representatives that I know he won’t forget.

In a world of fierce competition, biting adversarial exchanges, and endless violence, this was at least for me an unforgettable example of the “love your neighbor as yourself” way God means for His image bearers to live together. That alone is reason for us to feel drawn to the story.

But second, I think what made the story so gripping was the fact that it was also about God. We heard words of faith and hope in God and statements about prayer that amazingly were transmitted uncensored over the airwaves. It seemed to strike a chord with many people, and I wonder if that doesn’t reflect the spiritual hunger in our souls—an inbuilt desire to know God and to reconnect with Him.

All I know is that when it was over, people's hearts were deeply touched and many still wanted to hear more about hope and faith, and that can only be a good thing.


You can read the article on Sheriff Wampler at: (

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Sleepless in Orlando

Last night before I went to bed, I visited a couple of Internet blogs where self-described agnostics are dissecting what happened on Mt. Hood and deriding statements Frank made about God and faith and hope, given the tragic outcome. It probably wasn’t the best thing for me to do before trying to fall asleep. I felt the sting of their remarks about the absurdity of faith and their conviction that we are simply fooling ourselves to believe in God. After I crawled into bed, I lay awake feeling saddened and humiliated by the whole discussion.

What helped me sleep, oddly enough, wasn’t figuring out some clever argument to convince them God exists and we are right to trust Him no matter what happens. Rather, what helped me was realizing I’m in good company. People made fun of the psalmist when God didn’t rescue him from trouble. He felt like God had forgotten him. His enemies picked up on this and tormented him, taunting, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:3, 10).

One of the strongest incentives we have to be honest and open about our struggles with God comes from the fact that Bible is so honest. You’d think that a book intended to promote faith in God would edit out moments where God lets His people down and they become the butt of their enemies’ jokes. Instead, the Bible is loaded with stories of people—like King David, Job, Naomi, Jonah, Habakkuk, and Jesus’ disciples, to name a few—who were disappointed, frustrated, confused, and angry with God and couldn’t make sense of what He was doing. In fact, most of the Bible is about God’s people scratching their heads in bewilderment, exploding with anger at God over something He did or didn’t do, or having their faith stretched to the breaking point.

We may be embarrassed. We may feel like things have gone terribly wrong and we’ve been left looking foolish for trusting in God. Amazingly God doesn't share our embarrassment. He doesn’t shy away from situations that make Him look bad, but openly and without apology puts these messy circumstances out in the open for everyone to see. He does that in His Word. He does that in our lives—both in our personal struggles and publicly on Mt. Hood.

Somehow, this is part of the journey of faith—an important way God often draws us in to look more closely at Him, jolts us out of our polite, pious conversations with Him, and engages us in a real relationship. This is (at least for me) a good starting point—to know I’m not alone. This path—painful and confusing as it is—is well-worn by the footsteps of God’s people through the ages. Given the history of God's people, we should not be surprised to find ourselves here.


Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Unfinished Business

When Frank and I returned home last week from Kelly’s funeral, I was thinking that (except for a couple of final notices) this blog had pretty much served its purpose and should simply go to sleep. The rescue effort is over. Three grieving families have gone home. The media packed up their cameras and microphones and moved on to other stories. There really didn’t seem to be much more to say. Now I’m not so sure.

It is a worn out metaphor, I know, but after all has been said and done, there is an elephant in the room—a big, glaring, cumbersome load of uncomfortable questions that, to be honest, most of us prefer to ignore. But to stop here and not face head-on the uncomfortable issues that this crisis has raised—raised in public, no less—is to turn away from the central issue of this entire ordeal and cheat ourselves of the kind of honest reflection we all need.

Looking back over what happened, anyone can see that we were set up for a miracle. All the pieces were in place. We had a desperate crisis. SAR experts were on the scene, well-equipped, ready and eager to tackle the mountain—willing to risk their lives to bring the missing climbers safely home. Resources, technology and volunteers poured in from all directions. Family members boldly spoke words of faith on network television. “Courage and hope”—how we clung to those words. God’s people everywhere mobilized to pray. Media cameras zoomed in and all America watched.

Yet, to our great dismay, there was no miraculous clearing of the skies. No stilling of the storms. No stopping of the winds. Instead, blizzards moved in with record fury, driving rescue workers off the mountain for the most critical days of the search. Everyone poured themselves into the effort and, to be completely honest, it seemed as though the only one who didn’t cooperate in the whole rescue operation was God.

The book of Job opens with a man of faith on his knees and a God who seems to work against the prayers of His child. It is utterly mind boggling, but after only two chapters faithful, righteous Job’s whole life stands in ruins. But the book doesn't stop there. It goes on—for forty more chapters—to talk about the elephant in the room. Where was God when disaster fell? Why didn’t He step in and do something? What kind of God is He anyway? Are we wasting our time to put our faith in Him if He turns His back when we’re in trouble and crying out for His help?

Some of us are already wrestling with these questions—not just in the situation involving Kelly, Brian and Nikko, but in our private struggles with unanswered prayer and lives that are filled with disappointments, heartache, and loss. Our troubles mean these questions are personal, not academic. Much is at stake for all of us. We want to understand the God who holds our lives in His hands and whose ways so often defy our understanding.

And so, for a while, this blog is going to continue. I think we have some unfinished business that we all need to address. I hope you will stick with us—not with the expectation of getting all your questions answered, but with the intent of being honest with God, with how life looks, with what faith in God is all about. These questions are under discussion in our home. I want to take the conversation online. Frank will be joining us. I think a lot of us are interested in hearing his thoughts on these matters.

If you have questions you’d like discussed in this forum, feel free to raise them in the comments. We can’t promise to cover everything, but we want to at least try to take this discussion to the next level.

May God meet us as we struggle to understand Him,