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,



Anonymous said...

You really are amazing. I thought of you and the other families while my son and I drove all over Southern California to visit family I had not seen (some for over 10 years). Living in Oregon, we had two tragic stories with amazing families that will forever be my mentors. "Circumstances don't make a person it reveals them". I am so thankful for my faith (although I am still a "young" Christian and I am not always proud of my actions). I truly believe that He gives us the strength to overcome and the peace knowing that this is not the end. I have cried for you and been so thankful that you believe. I have been on both sides of the fence and I can tell you from experience that having faith and truly believing in our Lord makes circumstances so much easier to deal with. But I ramble... I am thinking of you and your family.

Linda Wightman said...

THANK YOU for acknowledging the elephant. You were Elijah, and God did not answer with fire. You fled the Egyptians, and were trapped between an unparted sea and an implacable enemy. You came to Jesus for healing and he sent you away. As you said, the only one who apparently didn't do his best for the rescue effort was God. And you are far from the only ones who've had this experience, even if yours was more public than most.

Thus far, such events have not diminished my belief in God's goodness, love, and power, but I certainly understand -- and do not blame -- those for whom they have.

What I can't handle is when people ignore the problem, or blame the victims, or fall back on a god who is so "other" that all we know of goodness, mercy, faithfulness, promises, and love has no meaning when applied to him.

We need to stop making excuses for God, as if he stands or falls by our defense of him. We need to wrestle with the hard questions, not pass lightly over them like a timid Sunday school teacher. It seems to me that many of God's "favorites," as recorded in the Bible, were those who stood up to him, who told him to his face when he was being unreasonable, unfair, or contrary to what he had revealed about his character.

I'm grateful the Book of Job is part of the Bible, and I'm looking forward to this discussion!

Anonymous said...

I graduated from high school with Brian. I did not know him well but I do know that he was a very kind, caring human being. Everyone liked him. I can only assume the same was true for the two other men that lost their lives. I cried when they found Kelly dead in the snowcave. I, like millions of others, wanted him to be found alive; I wanted them all to be found alive. Now, I just want the other two to be found. As I grieved for Brian and two men I did not even know my girlfriend pointed out bible verses in Isaiah that gave me comfort...Isaiah 57: 1-2 - The righteous perish and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find peace as they lie in death.
Maybe God spared them from something he knew they could not face and chose to give them peace in death instead. I believe God has a plan and something good will come from this.
I will continue praying for all the families who lost these righteous men.
God bless you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for not closing this blog. This blog has brought encouragement to many. I cannot imagine the sense of void you and the other families are experiencing with the loss of these 3 men and the lack of closure. However, I have felt, on a much smaller scale I'm sure, a lack of closure as well. I know that it will not be fully met until Nikko and Brian are found, but I still check the blog everyday. My prayer from the beginning has been that God will be glorified. Thank you so much for praising our Sovereign Lord and giving Him ALL the glory. Continuously praying.....

Anonymous said...

I find myself on daily basis thinking about this tragedy and everyone that it has effected. I was taking a shower last night and this popped into my head, and I started crying thinking of Kelly, Brian and Nikko. I feel as if this consumes me in times that I would not imagine. I know as it has been said that everything was set up for a "Miracle" and despite that God did not play his role in the "Miracle" as us as human beings see it. But then I get to thinking how strong Karen the wife of Kelly and the rest of the families have been. I see Karen in her statements and such as the interview on network television and Frank and his faith. This makes me realize that this faith they have is overwhelming and contagious, and other people see this and in turn want what they have. I do believe that as humans we are born with a void, and many try to fill that void with drugs, alcohol, sex, money material things ect. But the only thing that can fill it is God. I do believe that through this tragedy and subsequently the display of faith others will be drawn towards the truth. So when I get all consumed by what has happened here and feel down, I pull myself up by looking at some very strong individuals that are dealing with lives darkest hour, and God who must be very proud of them. We have no idea why God did not clear the weather on those days in December or why things like this happen. All I can say is I deeply feel for the loss of these men to all the family members and people effected, but I do know that through Christ you will see them again. May God bless you as you deal with this time in your lives-

Beth said...

As the rescue was in motion, I was fervently praying and believing that the miraculous was going to take place. I was working on my Christmas card at the time. I live in the Portland area and I took a beautiful picture of snow covered trees on a trip to Mt. Hood in November.

I found the perfect scripture. "Tell the heavens and the earth to start singing! Tell the mountains and every tree in the frest to join in the song! The LORD has rescued his people; now they will worship him." Isaiah 44:32 (CEV)

To finish my card and letter, all I needed was word that the climbers had all been found safe. I was waiting... and praying... and hoping... for the miraculous. And then the sad news came about Kelly...and then hope diminished for Nikko and Brian. My anticipation turned to mourning.

I was then faced with the task of writing my Christmas letter. I could no long use the rough drafts that I had formed in my head. I was forced to face the elephant. As I posed my questions to God, this is what I came up with. I am still worhiping God! The following is an excerpt from our family Christmas letter.

'Search and Rescue. These words have been plastered across the headlines in Oregon (and across the country) for the last month. I have found myself engrossed in two events that have called for search and rescue. I would fall asleep praying for these individuals and wake up anxiously checking news reports for developments, all the time holding on to hope for the miraculous. After the first tragedy, I was expecting a different ending for the three climbers on Mt. Hood. It was sobering to realize that the same day our family was enjoying askiing and snowboarding at the base of Mt. Hood, a man made his last contact with his family from near the top of the mountain. Seven long days later, they found his body in a snow cave. The other two men remain unaccounted for and the mission has turned to search and recovery. I find comfort in knowing that God does indeed rescue his people. '"Because he loves me," says the Lord, "I will resue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name."' Ps 91:14. The hard part is realizing that sometimes God rescues in life and sometimes he rescues in death. I also find it encouraging to know that God does not have to search for us. He knows where we are, even if no one else does. God also searches our hearts and minds. "O LORD, you have searched me and you know me." Ps 139:1. My prayer is that you would find comfort in knowing that the God of the Universe, who fashioned the tiny snowflakes and formed the majestic mountains, also searches and knows you intimately. He sent his son, the baby Jesus, as a life line. He will resue you when you call.'

Blessings, Beth

Anonymous said...

One of the more comforting images in Scripture is found in Psalm 91. It is the image of the eagle or a hen protectively spreading its wings over its young when there is danger.

But how true is that picture of a sheltering God? How secure are we in His nest? "No evil shall befall you?" What about Naomi who confessed "The hand of the Jehovah has gone forth against me... the Almighty hath afflicted me?"

I guess texts like Psalm 91 give us only half the story. When you add the experiences of Job or Naomi or Stephen into the mix, you conclude that no FINAL evil can harm us.

From Duncan, SC said...

This story struck at my heart as soon as I heard about it; having spent time at a friend's cabin on Mt. Hood two summers ago, I was able to envision it in my mind.

I can't tell you the encouragement it gave to me to find that the hikers knew Christ as their Savior - the gospel gives such hope! I no longer had to be sad for the hikers - for them, I was able to rejoice! I have, however, wept for the hikers' families many times. They have the incredible hope that comes in Christ, but it still just HURTS. And I'm sure it will for a long, long time.

Our family will continue to pray for all the families, and we thank God for the faith you have in Him. He will be glorified through this!

I'm glad you will continue this hard but necessary discussion - it's kind of like where the rubber meets the road for those of us who are believers. Where we step back and say, "OK God, I have no idea what You're doing here. I don't know what Your plan is. But I know You're good. And I choose to believe that You are accomplishing Your will and that Your glory - which is most important - will be shown to all of us. I have faith in You and in Who You are!"

Love to your families in and because of Christ.

RL in Duncan, SC

P.S. I'm sure you have heard of the book by John Piper "The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God" - in case you haven't, it is an incredible book, and one that speaks to the heart that is suffering and points to an incomparable Christ!

Anonymous said...

Your article is absolutely excellent. The maturity of God and His ways comes through as a strong foundation.
Thank you for not closing.

Karen H. said...

Caroly is so smart to show the "elephant." Let all the doubts & disappointments come out of the darkness and show their pinched up faces. Release them from their bondage of private, tortored thoughts. These are the issues that drive people away from God. This is where the rubber meets the road. Everything was in place, from a human perspective, yet these fine men were not rescued. They have passed through gates of splendor, leaving their families and many others to grieve. Now what? Perhaps the very reason these men were taken home is because the people they leave behind, particularly Caroly & Frank, have faith large enough to continue to engage the culture. They have the platform to do so. They have the background and training. They are ably prepared (by God) to climb out from the abyss. Many would not. Most could not. They can. I honestly think hearts will be changed because of their ability to seek God's answers in this tragedy.

I often think of Chuck (a man in our church) and how he handled his wife death from cancer. I think of him standing up at her funeral, delivering a heartfelt message. He didn't cry, although you knew he was sunk in grief. He was somehow able to bear up and go on, and help others face similar tragedies in the years that followed. Like Job, Chuck was given another wife and his family has thrived. But he has gone on... without Barb. Job went on to have another wife and more children, but he didn't get his first family back. He was rewarded for his faithfulness, but God didn't turn back time or "magically" make his first family return to life. He went on and had to trust God in spite of unanswered questions.

Our pastor often talks about how the problems of this world are just too big for us to handle. We can't do it. We are finite, not designed for that type of work. It is God's work. As Ruth told me so often, if God is not big enough for us to take our problems to... if He is not smart enough to answer our questions or engage our doubts and disappointments... then WHY BOTHER? Why serve Him at all? We all have plenty of things to fill our time. If God is not who He says He is, then we can all just go home.

Carolyn is doing a great thing here. Open up the floor, let the questions pour in. God is big enough to handle it. Lives will be changed because she is big enough to see the horrible elephant and to talk about it. She is the perfect (God-picked) person to do this.

Anonymous said...

I was reading on today and a climber noted what it is like to be up on top of the mountain, and how normal everyday life, down here, is so mundane in comparison, and how in experiencing that one time they have experienced more than the rest of us will in a whole lifetime. In reading that I knew without a doubt that they are seeing a glimpse of something the rest of us haven't experienced yet. When I read it I knew that heaven will be like THAT - yet infinitely better. Things so wonderful we can't even imagine them.

I have also encountered the elephant in my life. So many things that I have had the right attitude about, things that are in God's will according to the Bible, things I have wanted desperately and prayed for and been faithful in, I have a willing spirit and an open heart, yet I have been denied in my own life. Obviously God has something different planned for me. That is the only answer that makes sense, that God has plans that we know nothing of. Someday it will make sense.

God could have taken three climbers up on that mountain who were not believers, but he didn't. It happened for a reason. It was no accident; as with Job, God allowed this to happen. Nothing gets to the sheep without going through the shepherd. The gatekeeper opened the gate and allowed this to happen. We don't understand yet, but we know it's for good, not evil.

Anonymous said...

The question is what does God want or what is His plan. Why Kelly, Brian and Nikko?

Sinful in Orlando said...

I’m really sorry all this happened in the first place, but I think the worst thing anyone affected by this can do is theologize every last detail. May the Holy Spirit teach us how to react otherwise. Amen.

God didn’t come through this time. Theologize that beyond the mystery inherent. A billion people may have been praying for these three men, and He turned His hand away, as though He didn’t care. Did He forget? Was He working against the rescue effort? He sure acted like he hates us all, but especially those who were closest to the three. Yet at the same time He shows us His love through the cross of Christ. Most people with finite minds would be confused. It's amazing how many people believe, I mean really believe, deep down, that "Jesus died for even the worst of sinners, but apparently not me. I'm not loved by God, because I've screwed up one too many times." Job's three "friends" played into this common belief and berated Job for his unrighteousness.

I don’t know much about the book of Job, but it’s interesting that God doesn’t restore Job’s riches severalfold until Job gets past the “blessed be the name of the Lord” and begins to curse God. Job was confused about God’s goodness. God rebukes Job, but then He blesses him. Job wasn’t right in what he said (which is why he repented later), but he needed to say all that, for it was a confession of what he really held to be true. He was arrogant and simple-minded in what he said, but that’s only because it reflects who he was. We are all arrogant and simple-minded, foolish and sinful, stubborn and presumptuous.

I don’t know anyone who is any better than Job, even though we all pretend we are. We repeat the first two chapters of Job when trouble strikes, but never get to the rest of the book! I don’t know anyone but Christ who can mourn righteously, but it seems the Bible teaches those who mourn to come to Jesus to be comforted, and not to comfort themselves with theology and bible verses. I would encourage everyone reading this to not comfort yourself with theology and Bible verses unless you’re falling apart and genuinely repentant of what you've been thinking since you heard that Kelly was found. If you haven’t let yourself fall apart before God, to admit to yourself that you’re as pathetic as Job is and flawed and unable to mourn righteously, just like me, those verses of comfort will only puff you up. And you will just leak drops of grief for the rest of your life, like old wineskins. I say burst, and be made new again.

And there’s a guy named Elihu involved, too. Elihu was with Job and was not rebuked by God when God rebuked Job’s other "friends" in the 42nd chapter. We all need an Elihu who can witness us falling apart before God, who can rebuke us as Christ rebuked the Pharisees, not as Job’s three “friends” spoke falsely of God to Job. We need an Elihu we can trust. We all need to allow ourselves to fall apart before the living God.

May God forgive my errors in this, and bless us all in our relationship with Him, to live more fully and honestly before Him and others. Amen.

Michelle & Mickey Sanchez said...

Mickey and I are certainly still thinking of you and your families, and we look forward to continuing with you on your journey through this blog!

Kyle Henderson said...


I loved your elephant-in-the-room post. My family was, and still is, forced to endure a tragedy similar in some respects to your family's but much uglier. Unless a couple of still outstanding pieces of evidence falsify the theory, it appears that my brother murdered his wife and 11-year-old daughter and then killed himself. It is certain that my brother spent many years stealing millions of dollars from retirees -- including members of his own family -- through bogus investment plans he concocted to fund his addiction to high-risk day trading.

My point is this: Yes, "Where is God?" is an elephant in the room. But in my family's experience, the elephant can devolve over time, becoming bigger and nastier. Wondering where God is becomes resignation that God is who He is -- where else shall we go? -- which can produce, well, distaste. Quite frankly, my wife and I sometimes don't like God and His world. When your own family is a three-to-four-day news-cycle horror story, you listen much more closely to the madness. And sometimes -- not always, but sometimes -- the elephant lumbers into the room: "What the hell is this place? Is this really what a good God wants? I really don't get why all this is necessary."


Linda Wightman said...

Is that "Kyle Henderson" as in the Kyle whose name immediately brings to mind "The Heavens are Telling"? If so...well...I can't think of anything intelligent, original, or helpful to say...but...Hello, I'm glad to hear from you, and I'm very sorry. (If you're not the Kyle I know, I'm still sorry.)