On August 1, 2018, a 27 year old woman named Sam Sayers went on a hike at Vesper Peak in the Cascade Mountains in Northern Washington…
She did not return.
I’ve been waiting to write this blog because I wanted it to end on a happy note. I wanted to type the last period knowing the story was over- or at least the worst part. But the story is not over, Readers. As I type these words, we’re honestly no closer to knowing what happened to Sam Sayers that day or where she is now. But that doesn’t mean this story can’t have a happy ending, because where there is God, there is always hope. And this story is full of God and full of hope.
It was sometime in the early part of August that I became mildly aware of Sam Sayer’s story. My Facebook feed became littered with hashtags like #today #findsamsayers #loveandlight, and I noticed many of my Arbonne sisters- most of whom I didn’t know well- were sharing the same message: A woman named Sam Sayers was missing and she and her family needed prayer that she would be found.
I prayed. And then I went on scrolling…
Around the two week mark, the story found its way into my newsfeed again. More of the same hashtags: #todaysam #loveandlight. Was she still missing? My goodness! Truth be told, when I first read the post just days after she went missing, I figured she was just another missing hiker and they would find her. Of course they would find her. I had absolutely zero idea of the terrain, the vast scope of the search area, the remote location of this mountain, but in the pictures it sure looked like there were a lot of people looking for this gal. Surely she would be found. But after two weeks, the story captured me. Two weeks… can you imagine? I’d be completely tormented if my daughter were missing for two weeks out on some mountain.
I clicked on the hashtag: #findsamsayers and discovered there was an entire Facebook group dedicated to keeping people abreast of the search and what was going on. I joined it. A few clicks and I discovered that Sam Sayer’s mom was a Regional Vice President with Arbonne out in Pennsylvania. We had never met, of course, but that made her family. Suddenly I felt this weight on my heart, this was no longer ‘just a stranger.’ We were connected. Seven degrees… or so they say, right?
That night, when I spoke with my husband on the phone- I was in California at the time- he asked me if I was keeping up with the Sam Sayers stuff. I was. He was affected by it too. It was strangely consuming, actually, for the both of us. It bothered us- the not knowing. What could possibly have happened? Where was she? Why hadn’t they found her?
I returned home from California late on the evening of August the 20th, a Monday, and by Wednesday my husband and I were gripped in constant conversation about this missing girl and her family. Thomas was pouring over maps of the search area and looking at google topography to familiarize himself with the area. My husband has always been an avid hiker and he figured if he could put himself in her shoes, he might be able to figure out where she might have headed.
That night, Wednesday August 22nd, three weeks into the search, Lisa Sayers- Sam’s mom- announced that the ‘official’ search was over and it would be left up to volunteers from here on out to find her daughter. I remember looking up at my husband as I watched a video Lisa had posted on the #findsamsayers support group. She had been habitually posting updates each night, and I along with thousands of others were tuning in to follow the story.
“They called off the search for Sam,” I said, disbelievingly to my husband.
“No…” He said, equally as deflated by the news.
“Apparently there is a small group of volunteers up there who will be continuing to search,” I responded, looking down to investigate further.
My husband was quiet, but I knew what he was thinking… He wanted to go help. We live in Tennessee and this woman was missing in Washington. We couldn’t. I had just gotten home from nearly two weeks away with the kids, and we only had three weeks before I’d be off again for two more weeks. It was an expensive season in our lives. And if you read my blog you know that we’ve been diligent about what money we’re spending where- down to the last dollar (read more here to see what God is doing in our lives). It was not realistic to think we could swing it. Not now. Someone else would have to go.
That night, as we laid in bed, I glanced over to see that my husband was looking up flights from Nashville to Seattle. It would be around $800 to fly on short notice, then there would be a rental car, hotel stay, food, other random things… he couldn’t be serious. It couldn’t be us. Who were we? We didn’t even know her! Someone else would have to go.
We talked about it a lot that night. I had to ask him if he just wanted to do it or if there was some other reason why it needed to be him. My husband said that he felt like God was asking him to go. He showed me maps and explained a theory that he just couldn’t shake. He suspected that if it were him, and if he had hiked this area before- which we knew Sam had- he might have found an alternative route back to the trail head just to do something different. He showed me google maps and then search areas and I had to admit, he was actually onto something. It did seem like she could have gone down the mountain in an area that really hadn’t been searched. And although yes, he could have sent a message and told the guys on the mountain to head down that way, he figured that he wouldn’t feel very comfortable playing armchair quarterback from across the country. No doubt, there were plenty of ‘do-gooders’ trying to do the same. What they needed were boots on the ground. And Tom has boots…
The people left on the mountain still searching at that time were Kevin, Sam’s boyfriend, and a few guys we had heard mentioned more than once- Tim, Steve, Bud, Clay and maybe one or two others. There was no denying it was a small group and they would most definitely need more resources.
That night we prayed… we prayed for clarity on the decision, we prayed for a clear heart without ego or self glorification, and we prayed for them to just find Sam.
Do you ever find yourself standing at the precipice of change, wondering why God had brought you down a particular path, only to send you off in another direction entirely? I felt that way when I left the beginning of my acting career for the dream of a family I didn’t yet have. And similarly, my husband struggled with leaving his established career and seniority in the fire service for a dream of farming and presence, well before we had those things either. It almost felt like all the time, energy, money and experience we’d gained and lost in the pursuit of the first things was somehow forfeited when we switched paths and head towards the second things.
But that’s not at all the case, Readers… Not in our story, and not in yours either.
The next morning I awoke certain that God had brought us through everything he had brought us through, as individuals and as a couple, so that we could be standing in that exact moment. All of the sudden it all made perfect sense. My husband had spent 8 years in the fire service gaining experience in search and rescue (in the mountains no less), gaining EMS skills and medical supplies, gaining equipment and gear to prepare him for this exact thing. He had spent his entire life hiking and hunting, studying maps and learning orientation. His stint in the military also equipped him for a mental and physical strength and awareness that would be pivotal in this search. He had MRE’s and military issued boots. Not to mention the fact that he had first hand knowledge of what it’s like- physically and mentally- to be missing in the mountains as he, himself, was the recipient of a large search and rescue mission when he was in his early twenties. Oh, and after he left the fire service, Thomas started a business that lasted only about a year and cost us about $10,000… but it left him equipped with a drone and a drone piloting license- two of the things the searchers in this case were desperate to have.
Nothing. is. wasted.
Every single thing that Thomas had walked through in his now abandoned career paths had prepared him to stand in our kitchen that Thursday morning feeling incredibly prepared for such a time as this. Even the failed business endeavor seemed to have new purpose and meaning. And because nearly 10 years ago I decided to do Arbonne, Lisa and I were connected and I knew about her daughter’s story. Because of Arbonne, my husband and I were both out of ‘traditional’ work environments which only meant that we did not have to worry about taking time off or loss of income while he pursued this calling. And yes, he felt very strongly at that point that he was being called by God to go… to show up. Because of Arbonne, I know that FAITH is stepping out into what you can’t see, trusting that you’ll land on something.
We figured that if he flew into Reno, Nevada and picked up our car there- the Mercedes we’d been trying to sell, but hadn’t been able to (now we knew why)- he could drive to Washington and use the car as a home base to avoid having to drive to and from a hotel. He could camp out of it at the trailhead and focus on the task at hand. He could also then have access to his supplies- of which he packed MANY- and he could lock them safely in a car while he searched for Sam. This was smart, but it was also cost affective for us, and made this whole thing feasible.
The only issue was the flight… could we swing the cost? I suggested Tom check our United miles to see if we had enough. Honestly, we don’t ever use that account and I was not optimistic about that option, but I figured it was worth a look as it would make the decision a whole lot easier if it happened to work out.
Y’all, it worked out. We had plenty of miles. About 10 minutes later, the flight was booked, leaving the following morning bright and early. Tom spent the day packing and I spent the day praying.
I told only a few friends about our decision, but wouldn’t you know… when you step out in faith, you inspire others to do the same. Before Thomas was even on the airplane, he had another friend, and fellow Arbonne NVP husband, booked and ready to fly out to meet him there to hike with him. Two volunteers for the FAITH of one.
Thursday morning found us saying our goodbyes at the airport. Thomas had two huge suitcases and no return flight. We prayed, we kissed, we smiled. This was a profound moment in my life, not because of what Thomas was doing- although I wasn’t sure I had ever been as proud and humbled as I was in that moment- but because this was the moment I realized that FAITH is a VERB. It takes action. It takes stepping out. It takes doing. Faith isn’t any good when you’re expectation is for someone else to show up. It’s up to us, guys! We’ve got to be the one to DO…
It took a day of flying and a day of driving for Thomas to arrive at Vesper Peak. By this time, Facebook was abuzz with Tom’s decision to go and God’s beautiful light was shinning down so brightly on this story of Sam’s that I was certain Tom would be lead right to her once he hit that trail.
But my first conversation with Thomas after he had come down off the mountain on that first day of hiking was not at all what I had expected. After a cold, rainy, difficult day, Thomas was completely defeated. Just one day, and I realized that where there is faith and hope… the enemy will certainly show up.
After exchanging some pleasantries and updates on his physical condition, Thomas said to me, “Pray that I can keep the faith that Sam could be alive out here.”
You see, it’s one thing to sit at home in the warmth of your bed looking at maps and coming up with all kinds of ideas and plans and schemes. It’s quite another to stand in the reality of the harsh world and know that things aren’t at all as you expected them to be. I share this intimate piece of our conversation, Readers, not to discourage you but to remind you that FAITH is TRUSTING… Faith takes action, but it also takes trusting.
No matter the mountain, no matter the weather, no matter the dire circumstances… God wins. He’s bigger. Always. No matter what. And we have to lean not on our own understanding… my goodness I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said those words over the past two and a half months. I prayed that my husband would keep the faith, yes, but I also prayed that he would trust that a God who pulled a stranger out of his life in Tennessee and flew him across the dang country to climb a mountain, was big enough and trustworthy enough to show up on that mountain too. Faith is trust, y’all, and I haven’t let go of that trust even today when it feels like we’re no closer. I hope you won’t either.
The next 10 days that my husband spent on that mountain searching for Sam are a blur to me. I can’t imagine how Sam’s mom, Lisa, must feel because I was a complete bag of nerves every single minute of everyday that he was up there. There were even a few day stretches where I knew I would not hear from Thomas because he’d be hiking and camping for several days straight on the mountain. Again, faith is trust, and I had to lean into that often on those long days.
A few days before Thomas had to head back home- as I had a flight of my own to catch and kids who needed parenting- we had a long conversation on the phone. Thomas was in absolute unrest at the thought that he might have to leave that damn mountain the exact same way he found it- without so much as a clue as to where Sam might have gone or what could have happened to her. We discussed a dozen potential scenarios, each one seeming as unlikely as the next, and we got to talking about the people he had met and the experiences he had had up there.
You see, no one on that mountain- sans Kevin, her boyfriend, of course- knew Sam Sayers. Not one of the volunteers who had put their lives, their families, their jobs on hold to come to a terrible and beautiful mountain had ever laid eyes on Sam or her family. They didn’t know her. They weren’t there because they were motivated by some loyal love they felt for a friend, they were there because they felt called to be there… because it was the right thing. This struck me in such a deep place in my heart because it reminded me that FAITH is LIGHT. In all this darkness, and sadness, and in the despair of being left without so much as a clue day after day… this little bit of the story shined so bright to me. These people were all there because they actually had faith that they would find her. That they COULD find her. Their faith was their light in all that crazy, consuming darkness. It kept them moving forward.
It keeps them moving forward even today.
Thomas had to return home with ‘nothing’ to show for his efforts, and let me tell you what… he was devastated. But he hadn’t returned home with nothing. Not even close. Aside from new friendships, experience, perspective, and hope… Tom came back with new faith. And his having gone filled others with new faith as well- some have even found Jesus because of it. While he was there, and even since he’s come home, new people have shown up. Different volunteers. People who feel called, who don’t know Sam, but who are attracted to the light…
In this world today, right this very minute, where there is so much darkness, division, and hate… I am FILLED with so much FAITH, HOPE, TRUST and LIGHT. I am filled with it, because I know there are still people on that mountain walking in faith. I know there are still people on their knees right this very moment praying for a girl they don’t know, and a family they can’t help in any other way. I am FILLED with joy and praise at this thought, and for THAT Sam’s story already has a happy ending.
Y’all, I’m not an idiot… I know that Sam has been missing for 69 long days. No, we don’t have any more information than that. We don’t know she’s alive, but we also don’t know she’s dead. We just don’t know. But I still TRUST that God works all things for our good. And I don’t know why this is happening to the Sayer’s family, but I see the LIGHT in it. I see the good in it. I see the hope in it. I see the necessity in it. Because there are thousands upon thousands of people who are following the hashtags, and red, blue, right or left, they’re united in their prayers and in their hope. Sam has been an anchor for me through this tragic political climate because although there is still darkness in her story, I see SO MUCH LIGHT.
We can overcome. We can trust. We can take action. We can believe. We can hope. We can still rest in the good of people, and in the good of all things- even tragic things. We can… because God is.
I posted this on Facebook at the time, but it still gives me chills now thinking about the prophetic nature of my conversation with God one dark night while Thomas was still on the mountain. I prayed and prayed and prayed that night… you know the kind of praying where you’re actually on your hands and knees, with your face buried in the carpet? I prayed like that…
Lord, find Sam. Save Sam!
And His answer was clear and calming…