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Joy Realized - Jonathan Vishanoff

I was 15 years old when I first met Levi. My family joined a small group that fully embodied the purpose of the church, and of course, this group met at the Wilkins’ house. Just in the first few weeks, our small group simultaneously walked through monstrous challenges and witnessed incredible new friendships blossom. It was real, hard, good, beautiful stuff.


My part of that story was an instant connection with Levi over our appreciation for the Wichita Mountains — his extensive climbing and my newfound hiking in those pink granite hills opened the door for an unexpected friendship between a high school kid and a man with more life experience than I could fathom at the time. It didn’t take long before that first climbing trip happened. I’ll forget neither the intimidation of the first climb on that exposed Mount Scott wall, nor the inspiring confidence of Levi’s experiential knowledge and technical safety. Over the next several years, I got to be one of “the guys” on many adventurous trips to the Wichitas, and some comparatively tame trips to the climbing gym — even at my young age.

At every turn, I learned something new about how to interact with the rock, how to safely use my gear (and his), how to do things right, and perhaps most importantly, how to thoroughly enjoy every step of the process. I came to love the motive and focus required to tackle a rock wall, and the attention to detail and involvement required to safely belay a friend. And on top of it all, through honest conversations about life, Levi’s grounded and joyfully hopeful perspective impacted my soul at deep levels.

Not twenty-four hours before writing this, I got to climb with a college friend in a beautifully crafted canyon south of Salt Lake City. The skills I learned from Levi haven’t gone anywhere, and it was a joy to honor him through such a well-executed adventure (despite my woefully out-of-shape forearms). He would have loved that tricky limestone face, and the view behind us.

For the rest of my life I’ll be grateful for the ways Levi imparted wisdom and demonstrated Godly character to me, especially at such a formative age. I have no doubt our sovereign God brought our paths into this unlikely alignment out of an abundance of love and generosity. Levi welcomed others into his life unashamedly, and helped people like me to realize entire worlds of joy that otherwise may have remained hidden for far too long. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

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