I hated climbing mountains when I was kid. It seemed like all we did was hike and climb until our legs were ready to fall off. The Grand Canyon. The Mormon Battalion Trail. The highest peaks and mountain ranges in Arizona.
There was an activity called “Three Peaks in Three Days” that spread like wildfire through youth groups in Arizona. The goal was to hike the three highest mountain ranges in Arizona—Humphreys, Escudilla, and Baldy—in less than 72 hours. It was an activity that an avid hiker could be proud of, let alone a bunch of scrappy boys. Over the years, I heard countless stories of young men who had taken on this challenge. They believed it prepared them for harder things that came later in their lives. I didn’t really make the connection between the two. After all, a hike is a hike is a hike.
I eventually took up the challenge when I reached my teens, but I quickly regretted my choice. As you can imagine, my friends and I had nothing kind to say about our leaders as we trudged along the first trail. We were feeling pain and ready to quit, given the chance. I was tired and frustrated with my leaders for taking me along on this high-altitude fiasco. I could feel my heart pounding and my mind racing. My soul was on fire.
Even though I was miserable on that trek, I remember feeling a little proud of myself when I finally reached the last summit. Despite a momentary high, I still didn’t get the point. I mean, what was the actual purpose of climbing mountains, anyway? That point was lost on me until I got older and could see more of life in my rearview mirror.
Another Mountain to Climb
On January 19, 2016, I had just gotten home after a long day at work and was ready to spend some time with my wife, who was eight months pregnant, and our three beautiful children: Piper, age 6, Kimball, 4, and Russell, 2.
The kids wanted to go to a park near our home with friends, so off they ran. I dropped my bag in the entryway of our house and chased after them. When I noticed the kids approaching an intersection, I yelled for them to stop and wait for me to get there. A few of them stopped, but our daughter Kimball ran into the street.
The scene plays like a movie in my head. I can still hear the sounds in my mind. A driver coming down the road didn’t see Kimball and hit her with his car. I ran to her side and desperately tried to wake her up. Within minutes we were surrounded by neighbors, passersby, and emergency responders. We began CPR. A priesthood blessing was given; a helicopter landed with a roar and carried her away.
My wife and I jumped into a police car and chased the helicopter to the hospital. As we sat in the back of the car, I began to feel my heart pounding and my mind racing. I could feel my soul on fire—not unlike when I hiked those peaks as a teenager.
As we arrived at the hospital, the doctor told us the mountain was much higher than we expected—he informed us our daughter’s life could not be saved. How could this happen? How could I reconcile this with my faith in a loving God? Where was our miracle? I could not put the pieces together in my head. I remember going home that night feeling broken, ready to sit down on the trail of life and totally quit.
Feeling the weight of grief and ready to completely give up, we discovered that my wife was beginning to have contractions and go into labor, just hours after the accident. I remember turning to God again in prayer and telling Him that enough was enough—please, no more. We weren’t ready to get back on any trail. But knowing that we had been prepared for hard things, my wife and I got on our feet and hiked through the night to welcome our son Harvey into the world.
We often look into our little boy’s eyes and wonder why God would send him to us just hours after Kimball’s accident. He looks just like her. It makes us wonder at the mercy of God. Surely, God is mindful of us in our darkest moments.
We had experienced the full spectrum of life in less than 24 hours. My wife and I tried to stay strong for our kids, but we couldn’t help musing about God’s timing in all this. We still questioned where our miracle was. It takes time and patience to understand the steep trails we’re forced to climb.
Until Our Sunday Comes
So how did we meet the passing of our daughter with patience? Examples from the scriptures helped us see the full spectrum of God’s plan for His children. For example, when Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac on an altar, we marvel that he did so willingly, respecting God and his timing. But at the eleventh hour, the angel of the Lord intervened, calling, “Abraham, Abraham,” to which he must have replied with some relief, “Here am I.” The angel continued:
I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. (Genesis 22:12–13)
In contrast, when the Savior was crucified as a sacrifice for the sins of world, there was no “ram … in a thicket.” Jesus suffered in innocence at the hands of wicked men so that we would not have to suffer if we would repent. Christ took it all upon Himself.
Many who loved Jesus during His mortal life had to watch the horrific scene. I can only imagine His mother Mary’s thoughts, wondering why God had abandoned her and His Son. There was no ram in the thicket for Mary that day.
“For those who’ve lost a loved one too soon, we have to patiently wait until our Sunday comes.”
Like me, you’ve probably watched lots of people who don’t get a ram in a thicket. I’ve learned through Mary’s example that she would need to wait patiently until the Sunday of the Resurrection of the Savior. For those who’ve lost a loved one too soon, we have to patiently wait until our Sunday comes.
Give Me This Mountain
In the Old Testament, Caleb asked the prophet Joshua for an inheritance in Israel because of his courage and faithfulness over more than 40 years. “Give me this mountain,” said Caleb, because “he wholly followed the Lord God of Israel” (see Joshua 14:12–14).
At the October 1979 General Conference, President Spencer W. Kimball expanded on Caleb’s plea: “There are great challenges ahead of us, giant opportunities to be met. I welcome that exciting prospect and feel to say to the Lord, humbly, ‘Give me this mountain,’ give me these challenges” (“‘Give Me This Mountain,’” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 79).
President Kimball made a public commitment to wholly follow the Lord. Does it seem unusual that he would be willing to accept mountains of trials along the way? It’s not unusual if you understand the value of trials. Quite possibly, mountains are what make us become who the Lord wants us to be.
From our mountaintops, we’re able to look at our low points in life and understand the role dark valleys play in the plan of salvation. From the higher vantage point, we draw nearer to God and see things from His perspective. A mountain is not a mountain without the valleys that surround it.
I don’t know if I am as brave as President Kimball. I sometimes struggle to say, “Lord, give me this mountain.” But I know that I need to accept that God knows how to best prepare us for the clinical, earthly experiences that bring us closer to Him.
God Knows Who We Are
I can’t tell you that our daughter’s accident was divinely planned. I choose not to speculate about that, but I echo the words of President Hugh B. Brown, who served as a counselor in the First Presidency with President David O. McKay. My wife and I shared these words hand-in-hand as we spoke at our daughter Kimball’s funeral:
Now some of you as you go forward are going to meet with disappointment—perhaps many disappointments, some of them crucial. Sometimes you will wonder if God has forgotten you. … God is aware of you individually. He knows who you are and what you are, and, furthermore, He knows what you are capable of becoming. Be not discouraged, then, if you do not get all the things you want just when you want them. Have the courage to go on and face your life and, if necessary, reverse it to bring it into harmony with His law. (Hugh B. Brown, “God Is the Gardener,” [Brigham Young University commencement address, May 31, 1968], 5, speeches.byu.edu)
God has a plan for all of us, a plan laced with trials that help us understand life on earth and draw nearer to Him. There are some vistas that can only be appreciated from the tops of mountains. The only way to get to that vantage point is to hike to the top. If this must be, then I will meet my trials with patience, not give up, and humbly say to my God, “Give me this mountain.”