Faith and Hope: A journey into the Wilderness.
My dad was quite an accomplished alpine mountaineer. He climbed some of the world’s tallest and toughest peaks. As he got older, he retired from that kind of extreme climbing and concentrated on mastering the Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Western Montana wilderness in which we lived.
Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for me, I often became his climbing/hiking companion. I was his only child and his greatest admirer. The quest to summit Stevens Peak started when I was in 6th grade, so around 12 years old. We had already been climbing together for years, and bless his heart he endured the often whining and complaining of this girl ever so patiently.
Our expeditions were magnificent. I placed my total trust and often times life in the hands of my father. I had complete faith in his abilities. He was the most capable man I knew. I would follow him anywhere, and often times did.
There was one peak in particular that we summited with joy every year; Stevens Peak. But the tradition didn’t start out so well.
Steven’s Peak is a rocky summit sitting above Mullan Idaho. It keeps watch over not just one hanging circular glacier lakes but two, with a beautiful waterfall connecting these crystal clear lakes.
It is a wild country. A true Wilderness. Grizzles roam the area as do Elk, Wolfs, Cougars and other critters. The weather can turn on a dime going from 80 degrees in the daytime to below freezing at night every day of the year. In the winter, avalanches often are a very real danger and in the summer with frequent lightening storms, wildfire is always a potential.
This area holds a special place in my family’s history.
My Great, Great grandfather Daniel Hickey led the Survey Team for the US Department of Interior commissioned to survey the Western States. It was his party that got on the wrong ridgeline, and with winter approaching, was given permission to continue, even though it meant leaving Idaho with a long skinny panhandle instead of a nice square shape.
My father, worked for the Sunshine Mine Corporation in Kellogg after becoming a mining engineer. He was a Scout leader there . He himself was an Eagle Scout. He lead many trips with his troop into and around Steven’s Peak.
The horns of his first Elk kill near the Lower Lake hung over our fireplace.
We would often camp and spent countless hours fishing, picking huckleberries, soaking our feet in the St. Joe River, just enjoying this gorgeous place we loved.
As I mentioned earlier, before I drifted back into my memories, Steven Peak was a place, a special place, a private haven that my dad and I shared alone.
The first year we attempted to summit, I was 12. I think I slept all the way there because we always left in the early morning darkness on our adventures.
After turning off of I-90 near Mullan, We drove as far as we could first on a fairly smooth gravel road, and then on a not so wide, rather bumpy dirt road, and finally really up a glorified wide trail. My father announced, “This is it”.
Out of the truck I scrambled, putting on my day pack, which always weighed a ton. Ten essentials and then some. Checked my boots and off we went up what seemed like a vertical bank with no trail.
My father always seems like he knew exactly what was there and what we were going to encounter.
Mind you, he had only been up this Peak probably at least 10 times prior to our arrival.
We climbed for hours, up and up and up, stopping occasionally for water and some gorp, trail food.
When we finally broke out above the alpine line, we suddenly stopped, and my dad exclaimed...”Well I’ll be damned”. He wasn’t looking forward as I was, he was looking behind us.
I turned and joined his gaze. He then proclaimed: “We must have taken the wrong trail”
Standing right before us, in grand beauty was the ever illusive Stevens Peak. We had indeed taken the wrong turn somewhere.
At this point, there was no trying to summit again that day, so we sat, enjoyed the view looking east into Montana and ate our lunch and returned back down whatever peak we had climbed to the truck.
But the defeat didn’t phase my dad. The ever optimistic person he was. He just simply accepted it and embraced it. He often said, “Any day in the Woods is a good day”.
It took my dad and I three tries to finally find the way to the base of Steven’s Peak, but we did it. We each added a rock to the rock carrion on the summit and took a photo, starting our yearly climb tradition. We summited every year, just my dad and I until 1992 when illness prevented him from making our very special journey.
At this point, you’re probably thinking what the heck is she talking about all this for? Some of you are probably bored out of your mind. And it might be a stretch, but as I read our readings today, I was struck by the common denominator of people living and struggling in the Wilderness they found themselves in.
I tried to picture myself in Egypt with Moses leading his people, his flock and how Moses always kept his eye on the ball even when his people didn’t.
I thought of those early Christians that Paul was writing letters of encouragement to in Corinthians. They were indeed alone and often floundering taking the wrong turn, making bad decisions. Paul would swoop in with more advice on how to live and they were once again filled with hope that God would never give them more than they could handle if they would just believe and have faith.
And the gospel reading where Luke is really giving a stern warning about being truly re-pentful and know that we are all equal opportunity sinners.
I often feel today, more than any other time in my life, like I am living in the wilderness.
War, Covid, Strife in our own country, discontent in our own state...It all seems like so much heaviness to deal with. But there is Hope. There is a constant light we can turn to.
Like when I was younger and following my Father Dale anywhere he lead with faith and perseverance, I must follow my Father God everywhere, with faith and perseverance. It is the only answer that gives me a peace of heart during these heartbreaking times.
Stevens Peak was the Wilderness of my youth, but living in today’s world is my new wilderness.
I find ways to forget and turn my head away from the struggles going on in the world; The death of children, the killing of the innocent, the hunger of people, homelessness, the follies of our leaders.
But when I turn my head forward, the realities of the world hit me square in the face.
All I can do is have faith. Faith that my God will not give me more that I can handle. Faith that when faced with adversity, taking the wrong path, making the wrong decisions, crying along in my old wilderness, God is there right beside me, sometimes simply walking shoulder to shoulder, sometimes walking in front me, walking behind me, sometimes carrying me, but Always With me.
Paul writes: “ God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it”
Let us embrace our own personal Lenten wilderness and fill it with faith and hope in the knowledge and love of our God. Let us have faith when we look at the world we live in today, not giving up hope, but embracing faith, that God has the Bigger plan. It is up to us how will spend our time in this wilderness. Will we be part of the solution? Or will we simply stick our heads in the sand. Will we have faith and Hope? Or will we give up in defeat. The choice is ours to make.
My prayer and meditation this morning is that God will fill all of our hearts with faith and hope.