Matthew Smith, Colorado Springs, CO

Total eligible bills
$79,706
Provider discounts
$50,746
Total bills shared
$28,960

Luke 5:16 says that Jesus often withdrew into the wilderness to pray. I frequently feel compelled to do the same thing. One reason is that I feel fulfilled by the utter feeling of self-reliance. Second—and more importantly—for me it’s a spiritual experience to be immersed in a beautiful yet harsh environment. Spending time where nature is untouched by mankind instills in me a sense of humility and perception of how all creation is subject to Jesus Christ, the King of all kings.

Those are the reasons my friend, Tommy, and I decided to climb Mount of the Holy Cross in Minturn, Colo., about 3.5 hours from my home in Colorado Springs. The mountain, a “fourteener” with a summit over 14,000 feet, was one we were anxious to add to our list of successful climbs. It was November 20, 2016, just a few days before Thanksgiving.

Already tired after a long and confusing drive to the trailhead, we strapped on our 40 lb. backpacks and set out for the first camp.

The night was uneventful and we began the next day with a five-mile hike through deep snow and fallen brush to Bowl of Tears, a glacial pond. Next came a 300-foot climb at a 70-degree grade to the Holy Cross Couloir, a narrow gully on the mountainside. The last leg of our upward journey was 800 vertical feet through chest-deep snow.

It was then that our well-laid plans began to go awry. Night had fallen and the blizzard forecasted for the next day came upon us suddenly on the sheer rock face with a 1,500 foot drop below us.

Exhausted, we somehow made it to the summit and found a place to hunker down for the night.

Thanks be to God and our training, we employed some techniques to keep from freezing to death. Nevertheless, it seemed death was around every corner as we lay for 12 hours in a dark rock alcove—the longest night of my life.

I prayed God would send me something to distract me from how utterly cold I was and the panic that threatened to manifest itself. He replied by sending the wind, louder than I had ever heard it. And the wind caused me to think of Jesus, who calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. I thought of how He suffered on the cross.

Humbled, I realized how fragile life is and how the only true hope I could rely on was not in my own climbing abilities or in Tommy’s, but instead in the redeeming work our Lord and Savior completed 2,000 years ago.

At dawn, we attempted the tricky descent down the mountainside, but couldn’t find the trail after many frustrating hours.

We’d have to spend another night on the mountain.

It was both a thrilling and terrifying time. It was a strange feeling to realize that though we were in good health (except for some frostbite) and had the gear and provisions we needed, before long we’d be in danger of losing our lives if we weren’t rescued. I was scared but also delighted at the thought of meeting my Creator—even if it was 60 years earlier than I thought it would be.

We had peace regarding our own fate, but our hearts were torn to pieces knowing that those dear to us didn’t know if we’d fallen off a cliff or were lying frozen or bleeding to death under some rock. I can’t imagine the agony our parents went through not knowing what happened to us.

It was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and we became resolute to get off the mountain alive. Tommy said, “I don’t care if we walk out to our own funerals, but we are walking out.” A sense of urgency to stay focused overcame us. Tommy recommended we say the Lord’s Prayer, which we repeated about a hundred times that morning as we set out again.

Soon after, a rescue helicopter appeared and started sweeping the area. We waved wildly to get the pilot’s attention. It worked. The next thing we knew, we were on our first-ever Blackhawk ride.

Our toes were black from frostbite and the hospital had to use blood clot busters to open the damaged blood vessels and keep blood flowing to our extremities.

I’m thankful for my family’s membership in Christian Healthcare Ministries and how God used the ministry to provide for my medical bills. One hospital wrote off its charges and the other gave us a 50 percent discount. In all, CHM shared over $28,000 for my injuries.

It was a Thanksgiving to remember; never before had I been so thankful to be alive. Love; fear; ambition; selflessness; hate; humility; cold; warm; hunger; thirst; joy and peace were wrapped up in one big, unexplainable show of emotion when I first saw my family. It was wonderful to hold my mom’s hand, hug my sister and my dad and call my grandma to let her know I was safe and sound.

I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to Tommy Hendricks, Christian Healthcare Ministries, the University of Colorado Hospital, Vail Valley Medical Center, Eagle County Paramedic Services, Coronado High School and the local churches. Thanks also to Dan, Scotty, Scott, Tom, Tiffany and the rest of the Vail Mountain Rescue team; Jeffery DeMers, Heather Hendricks, Donna Yacovoni, Darryl Lingle, my friends, Tommy’s family, my family—and, most of all, Jesus Christ.

I believe God has commanded me to give Him honor and to spread His word by writing a book about my experience.

If I had to sum it up in a few brief sentences, however, I’d say this: I could be dead, but instead I live and am able to continue doing what I love. God’s timing is impeccable and His grace astounding. He truly does love us all.

©2019 Christian Healthcare Ministries. All rights reserved.