Déjà Vu

Note: Earlier today, Frank posted the following on the Three Mt. Hood Climbers blog. Please keep the families, the searchers, and the two remaining climbers in your prayers.

The names are different, but the agony is the same. Instead of Kelly, Brian and Nikko, the names are Katie, Luke and Anthony. One body recovered, two experienced climbers missing (as of 14 December 2009). The search & rescue effort is hampered by extreme weather conditions. The somber sheriff is surrounded with microphones from reporters,and family members try to hold themselves together while their hearts are stuck in their throats. Three flawed followers of Jesus are lost on Mount Hood in a cold December. This tragedy is the last thing I wanted as I prepare myself to enter into the mouth of mourning for the third time.

All year, every day, my wounded heart bleeds with grief. The bleeding ebbs and flows but never stops entirely. I hide my wound behind my work and ministry and manage to do what I am supposed to. There even have been a few moments of joy in the last three years. When our large boisterous and fractious family gathers, there is always a subterranean consciousness that someone is missing. And now Mt. Hood is threatening to do the same to others.

What can I say to the families who are this very moment huddled together, grasping for every encouraging report, weary from sleepless nights and long days, fiercely holding out hope?

I have no magic wand or pious platitudes that will make it all go away. It is already too late for Luke’s family. But for the loved ones of Luke, Katie and Anthony, I can only say, you are not alone. Somehow God is present in the storm—for the climbers and their anxious families. That does not remove the fear, the anxiety and the struggle; it does remind us that God is there when we reach out into the darkness. It is no doubt foolish to think I might have anything helpful to say to the remaining families because they are so vulnerable just now—but perhaps they will listen because it comes from a broken heart. David reminds us all in Psalm 46 that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” David does not promise that our loved ones will be rescued from the mountain. Nikko, Brian, Kelly and now Luke, were not rescued. David does not promise there will be no trouble or any heartache in this life. He only promises that God is with us in the trouble.

I don’t exactly know what this will mean for each one. For me, it has meant that I can shout out loud my frustrations and even say things I don’t really mean; I can weep quietly in my bed in the middle of the night; I can look up into the sky, stretch out my arms and ask why? In all of this anguish, God was present even when I felt alone. I don’t understand this paradox: how I can feel so alone and yet sense in my bones that God is near? David describes much the same experience in Psalm 10. David cries out in verse 1: “Why, O Lord do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” But then David declares unequivocally in verse 17: “You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.” It is a mystery—somehow both are true at the same time.

Mount Hood is a monster—a beautiful monster, but a monster none the less. Like the ancient sirens that seduced sailors in Greek mythology, Mt. Hood lures adventurers to its magnificent slopes and then freezes their lives away. God is not a monster. He is a mystery that pulls me toward Him even as I squirm and resist. And He is there in the dark places when I feel most alone.

On Thursday, 17 December (the day the rescuers found Kelly), I will go through my annual ritual of smoking a cigar, drinking a glass of wine while listening to foot-stomping honky-tonk music. I will shout out loud and says things I don’t really mean. I will lift my empty hands to the dark sky and ask why. And I will remember Luke, Katie and Anthony along with Nikko, Brian and my dear outrageous irrepressible brother—Jeffrey Kelly James.

Rock on little brother.


About carolyncustisjames

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2 Responses to Déjà Vu

  1. Shari says:

    I've been thinking about your family as I live near Portland and once again watch this terrible ordeal unfold. Last night the search for the latest climbers has been called off and my heart breaks for the families. For all of us who have lost a loved one our hearts go out to them and to you.


  2. Lisa Knick says:

    My husband is a United Methodist pastor. This past September the beautiful monster of the Grand Canyon took my brother in a hiking accident at the age of 43. He had hiked there successfully four times before. This time we waited and waited and waited. He did not return. It took 8 days after he left for his day hike for us to find his body. God's earth is beautiful. There are so many beautiful luring places to see. We will always ask why. Many will never understand what we have gone through as the family of a missing hiker. I understand your words completely, Frank. Thanks for sharing. Those who are considering hiking the canyon, please respect and fear the Tonto Trail. It is a beautiful monster.

    Winchester, VA


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