December 1, 2013, a San Jose, California family took a single-engine Beech Bonanza plane from Oregon (where they had celebrated Thanksgiving) and planned to travel to Butte, Montana to drop off a son and daughter-in-law. The small plane was manned by father, Dale Smith, a very experienced pilot, and member of the Blossom Valley Ward in Almaden, California. Yes, they are members of the Church.
Also on board were his son and daughter-in-law Daniel and Sheree Smith, and his daughter Amber Smith and her fiancé, Jonathan Norton. The plane flew on a very clear day, but when it reached an area over central Idaho, Dale reported engine trouble and dropped out of contact. The plane had gone down. Now the search was on to find survivors in the rugged snowy mountain terrain.
Dozens of search parties immediately began combing a four-mile radius with aircraft and ground searches. But searching was tough. Not only is this the worst time of year, but the terrain couldn’t be more difficult. The area was described as “vertical mountains as high as 9000 feet with several canyons throughout. The forest serves as a canopy and reaching the area with a vehicle is almost impossible.”
Others who wanted to help in searching extended beyond crews on foot and in the air. Those who couldn’t go to Idaho have been spending hours every day scouring satellite images through a website called Tomnod. My daughter Lauren and son Landon were part of this group.
There are over 1,600 members of a Facebook page that use current digital images of the Idaho terrain to locate any sign of the cockpit. If viewers find anything suspicious, they tag it and send it to air and ground searchers to check out. In the past couple of weeks, help for this family has been extensive and generous.
What brings this story closer to home, however, is that one son of that family, who was not on the plane, is in a youth choir called Zion Choir with my sons. When the plane went down, 17 year-old Craig, his mom, and other siblings were left to wait and wonder and hope that someone would find his family. Only, this last Thursday, December 12th, they officially called off the search and said they’d recover the bodies in Spring when the snows melted.
Called off. Ceased. No more searching. My heart sunk.
Friday night, Zion Choir performed their Christmas concert on Temple Hill (Oakland Temple auditorium). It was beautiful. Craig (that son) was there participating and looking visually affected by his loss. Not crying, but stoic and serious. As I watched him, in this 43-voice choir, sing songs of love and joy and hope and life, I couldn’t help but wonder if, in his heart, he was feeling that love and hope. His face certainly didn’t show it. I found myself praying for him throughout the evening.
So, for this post, I’m going to gear my thoughts figuratively to Craig and all those who are searching. Searching for hope. Searching for answers. Searching for signs of Christ amid tragedy and uncertainty.
Those Who Did Not Look, Did Not See
At the time of Christ’s birth, there were only a few who were searching for signs of Christ amid uncertainty. Preceding his birth, there was an extraordinary star in the sky – a star that was a sign long foretold of His nativity. The shepherds saw it. The wise men saw it, but what about everyone else in Jerusalem and the Middle East? Why did they not see the star? The answer is that they simply were not looking for it.
Just as the star testified of Christ’s birth, there are signs, daily, that testify of Christ.
Order and symmetry of the heavens
Beauties of nature
Answers to prayer
Times we almost have an accident, but don’t
Times when what seems like a horrible trial turns out to be a huge blessing
Signs. Do we see them?
Signs of the Season
Only when we look for evidence of miracles and answers for peace, do we find them. The Christmas celebration is an especially powerful reminder of the divinity of Christ. If we look more closely at the individuals and circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus (Luke 2), we can see how they, like everything else, testify of Christ.
The symbols that make up the story of Christmas are powerful reminders of Christ. Do we allow them to sharpen our focus of Him?
Thing is: tragedy and heartache have a way of clouding that vision. So, I wonder. I wonder about Craig. I wonder, through his tragedy, if he can see Christ this season. I wonder if he can feel His love. I wonder, in the midst of uncertainty, if he is filled with hope.
Friday night’s Zion Choir performance at the Temple was a joyful celebration of Christmas music, but one of the songs they performed was not a Christmas song. Near the end of the mix, they set music aside and sang a piece from their Spring program called Pilgrim’s Song. I listened with curiosity. The lyrics testify of the hope that came to us because of Christ’s birth and life. How very appropriate for a Christmas program. Even more appropriate for my sons’ friend, Craig. For, the chorus throughout the song repeats,
My soul doth long to go where I may fully know
The glory of my Savior.
And as I pass along, I’ll sing the Christian song,
I’m going to live forever.
What a message for Craig. What a message for us all. We may pass through heartache. We may pass through darkness and uncertainty but…
Because of Christ, we have the Hope of eternal life and eternal families.
Because of Christ, we have the Peace of the Spirit to help with difficulty and heartache.
Because of Christ, we have the Love of our Heavenly Father.
And, because Christ established His Church, we have a network of extended family and friends to help us on our journey.
So, for Craig and those of you who might be feeling a loss:
If you’re struggling to find faith or peace…
If the harsh wilderness of trial is not yielding answers…
If the presence of pain is pushing the presence of Christ just out of reach…
Don’t call off your search.
Keep hoping. Keep praying. Keep looking, because Christ is closer than you think. Look to everything that testifies of Christ. If you look close enough you will discover that the greatest miracle of the universe is the greatest love in the universe: God’s love.
For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish,
but have everlasting life.
So, if you don’t see evidence of Christ in your life, look closely at the symbols of the Season and let it remind you of His love and mission. The mission of Jesus Christ is a message of Hope, a message of Grace, a message of Life in a dark world.
Is there a miracle in store for the Smith family? Will we find survivors? I don’t know. But perhaps the greater miracle is that we are all Survivors. Because of Christ, we all survive death, sin, even heartache.
What an amazing gift. What comforting assurance.
Let that sink in for a moment, wont you? Then as you begin to see your Savior more clearly, join the journey with the rest of us pilgrims to sing, and become yet another source to Testify: And as I pass along, I’ll sing the Christian song, I’m going to live forever.
14 January 2014 Update:
The crashed plane was found 2pm Friday, January 10, 2014 on the west slope of Antimony Ridge at 7,500 feet by Dellon Smith, Dale’s younger brother (a professional Alaskan brush pilot), who had led the search party. He reported that it was apparent that the plane had sustained a violent impact, burst into flames, killing the five passengers instantly. There was no suffering.
The funeral will be held February 1st and Zion Choir will sing at the service.
Thank Heaven families can be together forever.
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