Life after death

How one woman held on to her faith after her husband’s tragic death

In “Holding Fast for Purpose,” Karen James tells the story of losing her man to a mountain. Kelly James was a man’s man; a follower of Jesus; a lover of life; a godly dad and hopeless romantic. He was a 25-year veteran mountaineer who had straddled the world’s most famous summits. But the final peak swallowed him whole and refused to give him back.

In her book, Karen shares her desperation as a rescue operation is mounted to find her husband and climbing partners Brian Hall and Jerry Cooke while lost in the decade’s worst storm. The climb up Mt. Hood was supposed to be a practice run for a future trip to Mt. Everest. Despite their skill, expertise and meticulous planning, when man is pit against nature, nature doesn’t throw in the towel. Nature does what nature will do and usually gets the last word.

However, the James family is not without faith or hope. As the family told about their faith on national television and of the prayers from which they drew strength and hope, a nation was inspired to mobilize. Volunteers pitched in and resources from all over the country appeared daily to aid in the search for the three lost men. The support was unprecedented.

Even so, Karen hit a wall in her faith.

“I painfully spoke out and asked God, ‘Why did You do this? I prayed so hard, and I believe in You. Did you forsake me?'” she writes in her book. “The emptiness was unbearable, and I felt totally lost.”

Ultimately, Kelly’s frozen body was found in a makeshift snow shelter carved out near the summit of Oregon’s Mt. Hood. As hypothermia brought on by subfreezing temperatures and hurricane force winds took his very life, Kelly spent his final hours alone in silent darkness.

The father of four children, Kelly started out his life in a violent and abusive home. When he was only 2 years old, his mother fled the scene, leaving her angry, abusive husband.

But, miraculously, Kelly and his older brother Frank had a love for God at a very young age.

“For them faith was not reserved just for Sundays, and they regularly stayed up late into the night and debated theology in a most adult way,” writes Karen. Kelly and Karen attended Fellowship Bible Church of Dallas.

Karen shares with readers that she was afraid of really jumping in with both feet with God. She felt it would cost her something more than she could give – and then she lost her husband.

But she wisely reminds readers that “He decides how, when and what we will have to face in life.”

God’s purposes bring great reward, but often at a great cost. True faith takes passion and pain, strength and sacrifice. But that’s the only way to fully experience an abundant life.

About faith, she concludes, “How do people get through even one day without God?”

She tells her story thoughtfully, giving readers a vantage point to observe the challenge of her faith and the triumph of her husband’s.

“After Kelly’s death, I went in search of everything that he had ever written to me. … While reading his writings, I noticed that in the majority of them, I was not the sole character. That had never been apparent to me before. Kelly also included his love for God. There had always been three of us in this love affair,” the author discovered.

Even though the book begins at the end, “Holding Fast” also shares the triumphant story of life after death.

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