Mt. Hood hiker widow speaks about faith in tragedy

Georgene Rice of KPDQ-FM interviews Karen James, wife of Kelly James, who lost her husband on Mt. Hood in 2006, finds God’s plan in a time of tragedy.

Georgene: Thank you for joining us today, it’s a blessing to be able to hear the rest of the story. In 2006 people were riveted to their television sets as details of these climbers were revealed and ultimately the outcome was not what we had hoped. But we always wonder what happens to the family of the survivors in these kinds of events.  Tell us how life is for you now.

Karen: Life is going very well. When we left the mountain I think everyone felt that there was no Christmas miracle.  I’ve learned over the years that God showed up and we had to face a tragedy but it carried us through the darkest times of our lives. The kids and I are doing good and now we are in a time in our life that we can look back and see how God carried us and we are dedicated in living our life in a way that we can share our stories that would make Kelly proud.

Georgene: Tell us a little about Kelly.

Karen: Kelly was the biggest optimist I have ever met and he had a very “can-do” person and that’s why I had so much confidence that he was coming off the mountain.  But of course, we learned that wasn’t God’s plan and that’s when I had to dig down deep and remember everything I have learned about my faith and put it in to daily application. Without my earthly mate there, I learned to have an incredible journey. God was there and put my faith in him and that’s the reason I’m here today.

Georgene: I think that most people when they confront a terrible tragedy like this one, it has the capacity to destroy one’s faith and ultimately one’s life. Neither of those things is your story.

Karen: I came to a point when I learned that losing Kelly was the biggest fear of my life and I found that when facing the biggest fear of your life, you basically have two options: you can curl up or you can look up. And I turned it all over to my faith and I came to the conclusion that I am a completely broken person and I couldn’t not navigate this world by myself. And I think that by surrendering to my brokenness and I knew that while I didn’t understand what was going on, God does have a plan and he has everything under control and that’s what I held onto during that time, even in my confusion I knew that one day, and maybe not until I get to heaven, it will be revealed.

Georgene: You are going to be one of the keynote speakers at the “Women of Faith Conference” I suppose you could not have imagined yourself back in that position, in 2006.

Karen: I joke about that often, because if you had told me years ago that I would be joined by thousands of women talking about my faith, I would have thought you were crazy. But I couldn’t have imagined what God had planned for my life. Now I understand where the life circumstances are very difficult but in the end it’s really not about us. If we have the opportunity to reach out to others who are hurting, then that’s the right thing to do.

Georgene: You are also going to say thank you to the rescue workers, who are often overlooked as the heroes in our country, who they climbed the mountain when those we loved are stuck there.

Karen: I am so excited about that, because I still stay in contact with Steve Rolands, with Portland Mountain & Rescue and Sheriff Wansler. Not only did they give us their skill, they continued to give us their heart and their commitment. They checked up on us and every so often, I send them pictures of the kids. These are really the unsung heroes. These are the men and women who make this country great…Even though there wasn’t a happy ending, we know that they gave everything to bring Kelly back alive.

Georgene: On October 7, you are going to visit Mt. Hood for the first time since your husband’s fatal climb. What’s the purpose of your trip?

Karen: I’m bringing Kelly’s mom and both of us felt for different reasons, a need to return to the mountain. My reason is twofold: I’ll get to see Sheriff Wansler. I also wanted to see the place that my painful journey began. I also want to change my memory of Mt. Hood, I believe that now I can see it through new eyes as a place that Kelly loved and where he was lifted off to heaven. Where one day we’ll be reunited. It will be painful but I believe it will be a key step in my healing.

How are your children doing observing you during this season and then coming to terms with the loss of their father and a holy and loving God.

Karen: The kids are doing fine, I was blessed with four incredible step children and they range from ages 12 to 25 and now they’re 16 to almost 29 and we still continue to every Wednesday night we have a big family night and we done that now for almost four years. We were very close before the tragedy and I think that all of us hearing the news in a room bounded us in a way that I don’t think anyone can break.  It’s a real blessing.

Georgene: How did you become a part of Women of Faith?

Karen: 100% God. Someone asked if I would like to meet them. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was not something I actively pursued or even really had an idea about. I think that God wanted me to use the tragedy, because this story was so public, I couldn’t go anywhere at one point without someone sharing their own painful story. That’s when I realized that there are so many people with a smile on their face but their heart is broken, waiting to connect with somebody.

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