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Facing Crisis Together

with Rocky and Sharon McElveen | July 9, 2008

Sharon’s father lay dying in a California hospital when she got the call that her husband had been in a terrible boating accident. Could she lose them both in the same day? On today's broadcast, Rocky and Sharon McElveen, owners of Alaskan Adventures, talk about the tragic death of Sharon’s father and the period of isolation it caused in their marriage as Sharon left Alaska for a time to be with her parents. Find out what they did to thaw the growing coldness between them.

Sharon’s father lay dying in a California hospital when she got the call that her husband had been in a terrible boating accident. Could she lose them both in the same day? On today's broadcast, Rocky and Sharon McElveen, owners of Alaskan Adventures, talk about the tragic death of Sharon’s father and the period of isolation it caused in their marriage as Sharon left Alaska for a time to be with her parents. Find out what they did to thaw the growing coldness between them.

Facing Crisis Together

With Rocky and Sharon McElveen
|
July 09, 2008
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: It was a difficult time in Rocky and Susan McElveen's marriage – so difficult that Rocky had suggested to Sharon maybe they needed a season apart from one another.

Sharon: I got on the plane, and I went up there, not knowing what I would find.  And I flew into Port Allsworth, and I was waiting on the bank when they came back from a day of fishing.

Rocky: And I hid …

Sharon: … in the back of the plane.

Rocky: In the back of the plane.

Sharon: Yes, he wasn't sure why in the world I was there.

Rocky: She sought me out.  Her goodness and graciousness sought me out.

Sharon: Actually, he said to me, "What are you doing here?"  And I said to him, "Did you really think that I was going to let you go?"

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, July 9th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll hear a story today of the kind of love that perseveres through hardships; love that will not let go.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I don't know what happened.  I expected that we'd have a regular broadcast today but Dennis and our guest have left and have gone out hunting, it looks like, and they're – oh, here they – they have come back into the studio just in time for today's program.  Did you catch anything?

Dennis: No, you don't catch when you hunt, Bob.

Bob: Did you take anything?  What do you say?

Dennis: Harvest.

Bob: Did you harvest anything?

Dennis: That's the politically correct term that hunters are forced to use this day.

Bob: I guess it's out of season now, anyway, right?  Everything is out of season.

Dennis: Yeah.  Well, we are joined again on our broadcast by Rocky and Sharon McElveen.  Welcome back Rocky and Sharon.

Rocky: Thank you so much.

Sharon: Thank you.

Bob: We haven't determined this yet, I just am curious.  We've talked about the great hunter-fisher-guide that Rocky is, but I just want to know, are you a hunter-fisherwoman, Sharon?

Sharon: You know, I'm not.  I am a California girl all the way.

Bob: So have you gone out hunting?

Sharon: I haven't.

Bob: You're like me.

Rocky: Define the species now.  I mean, she's hunted for me.

[laughter]

And she's put a lot of lures out there to attract me.

Bob: And she caught you, right?

Rocky: Right.

Dennis: I want to talk about that, because you've written a book, "Wild Men, Wild Alaska," and most men want their brides to experience – well, their nomadic call to Creation.  Has it been a disappointment to you that Sharon wouldn't go out and hunt?

Bob: Doesn't pack up a shotgun with you?

Rocky: She turns that book over, Dennis, if you'll look at that, just turns it upside down, and it says, "Mild Men, Mild Alaska," and, yes, I think that she has become a prayer warrior, and she doesn't really want to know what's going on while it's going on.  It would be much like the soldier coming back and finding the wonderful meal and the house right and not discussing the operation.

Bob: Mm-hm.

Dennis: Yeah.

Rocky: And she doesn't really talk about the blizzards and the boat wrecks and sometimes I'll tell her, and she'll just go, "Oh, dear.  Oh, dear me."

Sharon: I do spend a lot of time on my knees praying for my husband.

Bob: When Rocky's out, you don't know what's going on, the weather gets bad, you hit your knees, right?

Sharon: Well, you know, now there's the Internet and the telephone that we're able to keep in better contact …

Rocky: And the radio.

Sharon: But there was a time when I would only get one call a week, and that was when he would come down to the village to pick up a hunter, and, you know, I just spent a lot of time praying.  And now I do know a lot more of the details and all of that, but sometimes I think to myself, "Boy, girl, you are crazy to have this kind of husband and to live this kind of life."

Rocky: Search and Air Rescue flew over one of my plane crashes, and the pilot reported that no one could have survived, and that was the word that my wife heard.

Bob: Really?  Wow.  So you thought on at least one occasion that he wasn't coming back.

Sharon: You know what?  There was something inside of me that just knows that Rocky's a survivor, though, and I just – I didn't believe that there was no way that he wasn't coming home.  I just – he's – somehow he always …

Rocky: Although she did sign up for Classmates.com.

Sharon: Oh, shut up.

[laughter]

Rocky: Which is a way of reconnecting.

Sharon: Take that out.

[laughter]

Dennis: Our listeners would never believe what ends up getting cut out of broadcasts.

Bob: But that's not getting cut out.  That was a classic line.

Dennis: We're going to leave that right in there.  Your marriage, though, in all seriousness, has not been unlike other marriages in that it has been tested by literal fire on two different occasions, I'm thinking of.  One was the death of your father and an accident that occurred there.  Explain to our listeners what happened and kind of how you and Rocky missed one another in the midst of that drama.

Sharon: That was probably one of the toughest times of my life.  I was very close with my dad; he was very close to our family, and Rocky just loved having a comrade with having four daughters …

Rocky: Here, here.

Sharon: … and a mother-in-law and a wife …

Rocky: Where are you, Elmer, when I need you?

Sharon: But my mom and dad always spent the summers in our house in Rockland, California, and there was a propane explosion, and my dad was injured severely, and so I received a call to come down to California and see him.  And my dad was a big, strong man, and there was – in my mind, there was no way I thought that anything could probably take him, you know, of course, my mom had been very positive, too, like, you know, "He'll come out of it okay."

Dennis: Now, to set the stage, your lodge is about how many hundred miles from Anchorage back in the wilderness?

Sharon: About 200 miles from Anchorage, so we are very remote, and it was quite a journey for me to leave our lodge and go into Anchorage and then fly to Sacramento and see my dad.  And the Lord was gracious, because my father had been unconscious before, and it was just that morning that he regained consciousness, and he was actually sitting up, and they were trying to feed him, and the Lord gave me a couple of hours just to be able to say, "I love you," and talk to him and, of course, he was doing so much better that, like I said, you know, you just think, "Oh, wow, he's doing better, and he's going to come out of this."

But he was burned so badly that they had to sedate him again, and yet we had, oh, it was about seven days that Daddy lived, and then the Lord took him.  But the night before my dad did pass away, I was trying desperately to reach Rocky, because I just needed that comfort, and I needed that strength, and I was calling the lodge up in Alaska, and the word that I got was that, "You know, there's been a boat accident, and we don't know the details.  We don't know if Rocky went out to help the people from the boat accident or if he was in the boat accident," but it was really a tough time, and I'll tell you, at a time like that is when you really turn to the Lord, and you just hang on and just say, "Father, help me through this time."

And, as it was, Rocky was in a terrible boat accident, and so I almost lost my dad and my husband within 24 hours there.

Dennis: I want to stop you there.  I want to go to where Rocky was.  Rocky, you had taken some of your customers …

Rocky: Customers, yes, sir.

Dennis: … on a river up to see some caribou.

Rocky: We had been flying and fishing in some local lakes right off of the Newhalen River and Lake Clark, and we saw about 30,000 to 40,000 caribou, so I came down, and I said, "Listen, guys, I've got a new jet boat.  I think, with my incredible skills, that I can go up to some rivers and through some rocks and through some – and I think I can get all the way to this caribou herd."

Well, of course, they were going, "Yeah, yeah, you idiot, let me jump in there with you," you know, and so pretty soon I got my – everything together, and I put a couple of my friends in there, and we made it.  We made it all the way through those channels and those small – sliding around 30 miles an hour through rocks and cliffs and, all of a sudden, we came out on this – it looked like a Norman Rockwell painting of Alaska.  Here was this incredible, beautiful lake with these huge cliffs and mountains coming down to it, and thousands of caribou and feeding and coming in and calves and cows and big bulls, and there was eagles flying around, and we just sat there and soaked in this incredible scene, and I thought, "Man, how much more peaceful is this" than dealing with all of this terrible carnage at my home where the propane had blown up, and my father-in-law, bless his heart, had been burned, and it didn't look good, and we probably lingered over that wonderful, delightful dessert of nature longer than we should have, and we started down, and it got rougher and rougher, and I was doing about 30 miles an hour when I did not see the rock until – the last thing I remember, I was standing up, holding the steering wheel, and I hit the rock full speed, and we flipped the boat completely over, and …

Dennis: Yeah, you got a scar on your chin.

Rocky: Yeah, I had a hole – yeah, I was under – that thing was huge, that scar, and I went underwater, and I had my – I was closing my mouth as tight as I could, but it was – I was filling up – I was drowning.

Bob: Because it was coming in through your lip?

Rocky: Yeah, it was – I had two mouths, which my wife knows I don't need.

[laughter]

You know, you've heard of the forked tongue, well, this was the double mouth.  But my friends got seriously hurt as they went under the boat, too, and it was a major rescue effort to get the boat drained and the motor and the gas and the lines and the batteries put back in place, and the guys dried out, and so search-and-air rescue found us and said that there was no way they could get to us, and we were in bad shape on the side of a mountain coming down to the lodge.

Bob: And you got the message about this boat wreck with your husband while you were in California caring for your mom and dad?

Sharon: Right.  I didn't know whether he was in a boat accident or if he was just out helping someone who had been in a boat accident.  So I was hoping for the best.

Bob: Right.  But you had to be going, "Lord, here I am with Mom and Dad in the hospital, and I don't know what's going on with my husband and – help."

Sharon: It was.  It was very, very difficult, especially because I didn't have my little girls.  They were all up there, too, because I was – I thought, for sure, I would be turning around and going back up.

Dennis: And in the midst of that, you felt like when you finally did get back together with Rocky that you really had missed one another in the midst of this crisis.  I mean, he had his own crisis that he hadn't shared with you and you, obviously, had a crisis as well as a funeral.

Sharon: Absolutely.  Well – actually, Rocky got back to the lodge, they took care of him, and we were able to connect, but there was some kind of disconnect there for Rocky.  It was like he just could not deal with the fact that my dad had passed away.  It was so hard for him, and so I felt like I wasn't really connecting with him, and just in talking to him, when I asked him, I said, "Honey, I need you to send the girls home to me.  I want them to be here for Dad's memorial," and it was a very, very difficult time for both of us.

Dennis: He was an important man in your life?

Rocky: Yes, but I think I was pretty selfish.  I just thought, "everybody is deserting me when I need them the most."  And I felt like my girls were such a big part of the lodge and the business and flying and the fishing and the hunting, and now my wife was gone, she's going to take the girls, I hadn't really dealt with that thought and, at the time, we owned two really nice lodges, and one was further in the interior or Alaska.  Then I thought, "Well, I'm just going to go out there, and she'll never find me," and I was going to run away.

Dennis: Run away?

Rocky: I was just going to  – and I think I even said to her, that "Well, I may not be back this winter."

Sharon: I could tell that he was shutting down emotionally.

Bob: Did he say that to you – "I may not be back this winter?"

Sharon: Something to that effect, and a dear friend of mine, who was actually a friend from high school knew that my dad had passed away, and she said, "Sharon, what can I do to help you?"  I said, "I need to go back up to Alaska," but I have four girls and my mom, who had just gotten out of the hospital was still with me.

Bob: And she's a widow – your mom.

Sharon: My mom is a widow, yes.

Bob: Your mom is a fresh, new widow.

Sharon: Right.  And yet there was something inside of me that knew that I needed to go and be up there with Rocky.

Bob: Wow.

Sharon: So my friend, bless her heart, she came, and she took care of the kids for me, and my mom.

Dennis: So the kids stayed in California.

Sharon: The kids stayed in California, and I got on the plane, and I didn't tell him I was coming, because I just didn't – there was this disconnect there. 

Rocky: Well, nobody would come after the lowest rat of mankind.

Sharon: I got on the plane, and I went up there not knowing what I would find.  And I got there, and Rocky was in the last week of fishing of the summer, and I flew into Port Allsworth, and I was waiting on the bank when they came back from a day of fishing.

Rocky: I thought it was an apparition.  It was an angel, it was a beautiful, ambulent light on the beach, and I hid.

Sharon: In the back of the plane.

Rocky: In the back of the plane.

Sharon: Yes.  He wasn't sure why in the world I was there.

Dennis: Hold it.  You hid out in the back of the plane from your wife?

Rocky: Well, I wasn't sure it was her.  It could have been, you know, an apparition.

Dennis: Ah, you knew it was her.

Rocky: It was her, yeah, it was her.  She sought me out.  Her goodness and graciousness sought me out.

Dennis: You know, and I know all this is kind of sounding a bit surreal, but there are a lot of men who hide …

Rocky: Right.

Dennis: … from their wives.  They may not hide in the back of a plane.

Rocky: On a couch, that's a good hiding place.

Dennis: They may hid in Creation, like you're talking about getting involved in sports, hunting, fishing, golf …

Rocky: Or other very, very horrible addictions.

Dennis: Others – you actually described Alaska as your mistress at one point.  Is that it lures your heart away and is more fulfilling?  Is it that it's safer than a relationship with a woman?

Rocky: I thought something like that, that would be an easier life just to get away from – you know, I was the Asthene, I was the Qumran community, I was John the Baptist in the wilderness.  You know, I was going to just avoid the telephones and the heartaches and the televisions and everything else and just live off the land.  I'm sure that we have listeners who have thought like that and lived like that.

Bob: Just going to run away from life, basically.

Rocky: Every rich man builds a little, beautiful log cabin somewhere by a lake with the same thought.

Bob: "I'll just drop out of life."

Rocky: Right.

Dennis: You were going to run away from the love of your life, Sharon, and your four daughters.

Rocky: Yes.  Yeah, I was, I was.

Dennis: And ultimately …

Rocky: I don't think that it was like a forever – but for right now this is how I was going to deal with this and next spring maybe we'd …

Bob: We'll see what happens.

Rocky: When the ice breaks in my heart and in the river, we'll get together.

Bob: We talk to couples at our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences about how inevitable difficulties in a marriage like the loss of a parent, like a tragic, near-fatal accident, can cause you to drift toward isolation.  Rather than pulling you together, you drift apart, and you both need each other, and you're not there for each other because you're dealing with your own pain, right.

Rocky: I totally agree.  My stitches, I pulled them out myself.  They laid me down on top of a freezer, you know, no medication, no one there, and I'm hurt and bruised and I'm going, "Well, okay."

Bob: But when you got to the beach.

Rocky: Oh, baby.

Bob: And your wife is standing on the shore, and you're hiding in the back of the plane, she came and sought you out and said, "I'm here for you.  Even in my pain, even with all I've gone through, the girls back in California, my dad just died, and my mom is still recovering, I'm here for you."

Rocky: Yeah.

Dennis: I want to know what you said to him, Sharon.  I want to know what your first words were to him.

Sharon: Actually, he said to me, "What are you doing here?"  And I said to him, "Did you really think that I was going to let you go?"  And he goes, "Well, yeah, I did."  And I said, "I would have come, and I would have found you wherever you are."  And that's really the way that I felt.  It was that important for me to connect with him, wherever he was.

Dennis: In the midst of all of what you were going through?

Sharon: Right.  He's always been the most important thing to me, and even though I loved my dad and everything, this was my life now, and my husband, my soulmate, my love of my life, the father of my girls, and there was no way I was going to let him go.

Dennis: Here is the guy who is having stitches taken out lying on the freezer.

Rocky: Right.

Dennis: What did that do to your heart?

Rocky: Well, it just showed me how self-centered and what a great representative of most men that I was.

Dennis: Did it melt your heart?

Rocky: Oh, yeah.

Dennis: When she said that to you.

Rocky: Oh, I think that night was one of the best nights in our life.

Sharon: Right.  I think it finally gave him a chance to cry and to mourn my father's death, too.  And so it was good.  It was a reconnection for us.

Dennis: You know, marriage is a covenant.  It's a promise.  It's a pledge that two imperfect people who are broken, broken people, who have made their own mistakes make to each other in the midst of the circumstances they are facing today and the unknown of tomorrow, it's a promise that they make that we'll stand alongside each other for a lifetime.  And what you did is a great picture of covenant-keeping love, and your statement to him – I love it – "What did you think I was going to do?  Did you think I was going to let you go off into the frozen wilderness?"

Bob: Well, some women would have said, "What a jerk.  If he wants to go live out in the woods, let him go live out in the woods.  What a selfish pig."

Dennis: And I'm sure a few of those thoughts crossed her mind.

Rocky: Well, I'm certain that frozen in ice enter a lot of marriages, and it doesn't have to be in Alaska.

Bob: That's right.

Dennis: Well, I just want you both to know I really appreciate you being vulnerable here and sharing your story with our listeners because, Bob, you know this – we get the letters and e-mails by the thousands of couples who are facing their own Alaskan winter, their own challenges, and they need to know it can work, and that it does work, and that Jesus Christ, when He lives in two people, the husband and wife, that marriage can go the distance, and they can make a difference.

Bob: And I'll just say you were right, you know, back when you said "Let's bring Rocky and Sharon in and let's talk," and I said, "Well, what are we going to talk about, you know, shooting wolves and shooting caribou?"

Rocky: We haven't gotten around to that.

Bob: What's this have to do with marriage and family?

Rocky: Yeah.

Bob: And I guess it has a few things to do with marriage.

Dennis: You know what?  If they want to get those stories …

Bob: Yeah, they get his book.

Dennis: They can get his book.  In fact, I'll tell you what I'd encourage every wife to do.  You've got to sneak over to the Internet, FamilyLife.com, order the book or call 1-800-FLTODAY, and just kind of slip it beside your husband's nightstand.

Bob: Yeah?

Dennis: If he's like me and loves a good adventure story, he'll read it in about a day and a half.  That's how long it took me.

Rocky: Yeah.  Thirty-four colored pictures if you can't read.

Dennis: Big print.

Rocky: Yeah.

Dennis: It's a great book.

Bob: The book is called "Wild Men, Wild Alaska," and we've got copies of it in our FamilyLife Resource Center.

Dennis: And before you finish telling them how to get a copy of that, I just want to thank you guys for being on FamilyLife Today.

Rocky: Dennis, thank you.

Dennis: And, Sharon, thanks for listening to the broadcast and wanting to get Rocky on here.

Sharon: It's my pleasure.

Dennis: For a tough grizzly guy, he's pretty tenderhearted.

Sharon: Yes, he is.  I'm very grateful.

Bob: Yeah, we appreciate both of you being with us today and, again, if folks are interested in the book, it's called "Wild Men, Wild Alaska," go to FamilyLife.com.  On the home page, on the right side, you'll see a box that says, "Today's Broadcast," and if you click where it says "Learn More," that will take you to an area of the site where you can find out more about Rocky's book, and you can order a copy from us online, if you'd like.

Again, the website is FamilyLife.com, and you click on the right side of the home page where it says, "Today's Broadcast," and that will get you where you need to go.  Or just call us at 1-800-FLTODAY – 1-800-358-6329, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can let you know how you can have a copy of Rocky's book sent directly to you.

You know, we want to say how thankful we are to those of you who not only listen to our program each day but from time to time you contact us to make a donation for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  We are listener-supported, and it's those donations that make it possible for this program to be heard each day on this station and on other stations all across the country.  So we appreciate your partnership with us in making this program possible.

This month, if you are able to help with a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today, there is a CD we'd love to send you.  We had a chance to sit down not long ago with our friend, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and talk about the subject of forgiveness.  She's written a book called "Choosing Forgiveness," and our conversation explores many of the issues we face when we seek to obey God's command that we be forgiving people.

If you'd like to receive a copy of that CD, you can request it, again, when you make a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today this month.  If you are donating online, there is a keycode box on the donation form.  We'd ask you to type the word "forgive" in that box so that we'll know to send a copy of the CD to you, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone and just ask for the CD on forgiveness, or the CD with Nancy Leigh DeMoss.  Again, we're happy to send it out to you.  We appreciate you, and we want to say thanks for your financial support of this ministry.

Well, tomorrow we're going to be back to talk about what we can do as parents to help raise children who are money-wise.  Mary Hunt is going to join us as we talk about preparing our children to be debt-proof, and I hope you can join us for that as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.  

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