Archive for Alcoholic

Knowing Which Mountain to Climb

*Knowing Which Mountain to Climb is the fifth installment in The Serenity Prayer Series.

God
Grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can

       And the wisdom to know the difference.

When I was twenty-something, then thirty-something, and finally sneaking into my forty-somethings, I thought I could climb every mountain my friends could. After all, nothing was physically wrong with me, and I could hike 5-6 miles at a stretch, maybe three or four times every summer.

Then, I naively accepted an invitation to hike from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado with a group of women in recovery. We took the ‘long route’- fourteen miles- because it was supposedly easier. The super-athletes in the group made it in eight hours, arriving about four in the afternoon. More trickled into town as the sun sank lower in the west. Finally, my desperate foursome wandered in long after dark, exhausted like we’d each given birth to triplets. Some people are born athletes and some aren’t, and that day God gave me the wisdom to know the difference.

Webster’s defines wisdom as “the knowledge of what is true or right, coupled with just judgment as to action.” * I wish that I could say that now, in my fifty-somethings, I can easily discern the difference between the things I can change and those I cannot. But truth be told, my perceptions of events, circumstances, and people naturally filter through my own self-interests. It’s always me first. How does this affect me? What should I do about this? That’s why the Serenity Prayer is, for me, an indispensable tool in seeking peace of mind and heart. I can ask God for help.

The New International Version of the Bible mentions wisdom over two hundred times, but this verse from James is my all-time favorite:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. -James 1:5-8

Every time I’ve asked, I’ve received. Sometimes I have to wait a while, and sometimes I don’t like what I hear. But eventually an answer will waft my way, suggesting a solution that works for everyone’s good and God’s glory: that’s how I know it’s from Him. As far as obtaining the power to carry it out- that’s a blog post for another day.

All the courage in the world can’t change the fact that I’m not a born athlete. Last week a friend dropped by with her twenty-something daughter and casually mentioned their plans to summit a 14’er this weekend. That means a mountain over fourteen thousand feet high. Even trees can’t breathe up there. I expressed my heartfelt admiration and wished them well, knowing my days above timberline are over. I still hike, but now I’m very selective about which mountains I climb. Thank God for the wisdom to know the difference!

©2011 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Please visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com for more information on recovery and the awesome love of God.

*Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary ©1996 by Random House Value Publishing, Inc.

Courage for the Uphill Climb

*Courage for the Uphill Climb is the fourth installment in The Serenity Prayer Series.

God
Grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change.
    
     The courage to change the things I can

The UPS guy didn’t like my dog Max, and I didn’t blame him. Part Shepherd, part Rottweiler, no one even dared approach me when Max was by my side. Our hearts broke when he died last year. All that’s left of him are our precious memories, a few photos, and a mile-long scar rounding the outside bend of my left elbow.

No, he didn’t bite me. He merely did what dogs do, leaving a half-eaten rawhide bone on the stairs. Being the same color as the oak floor, I never saw it: I just stepped on it. My foot went flying out from under me, and I sailed elbow-first down into the living room. The blow shattered the joint and changed my life forever. In the weeks following reconstructive surgery I simply accepted the doctor’s forecast of permanent disability; he predicted pain and very limited mobility forever. But as time went on I decided I wasn’t ready to be a one-armed wonder, so I sought a second opinion. Our family chiropractor responded to the surgeon’s prognosis with a resounding, “Nonsense!” He gave me a sheet of exercise instructions, a couple of resistance bands, and the hope that someday my arm would be strong again.

Four years later I can see they were both right. It always hurts and it’s weaker than my other arm. However, the pain is manageable and I have far better function than I would have had without exercise. “To accept the things I cannot change” is a basic tenet of the Serenity Prayer and a step along the pathway to peace, but I must be certain that a thing cannot be changed- and if it can, I must summon the courage to change it.

I am a Christian saved by grace and an alcoholic/addict saved by recovery, miraculously blessed to live in the best of both worlds. Parts of my heart and soul are still broken, and will be until the day I go home to Heaven. For the things I cannot change, I ask for serenity and peace. For the things I can change, I pray for the courage to try. Better than an exercise band with a photocopied sheet of instructions, my Lord beckons me with these words:

“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”– Jesus Christ (Matthew 14:27 NIV)

What does it look like: to “take courage?” In this case, it is my weakness surrendering to His strength. As I go about my day-to-day life, I picture Jesus holding my right hand. Because it’s attached to the arm that doesn’t hurt, I can pretty much wander the path while staying reasonably close to His side. But when I’m frightened I grab His hand with my broken arm- the one with little strength, the one that hurts all the time. Why?

To be led by that arm I must completely surrender; it has virtually no strength of its own. In addition, any movement away from the One who holds me results in significant pain in my elbow. I must trust Him not to hurt me, or lead me where I shouldn’t go. Never has trusting Jesus led me astray. With His help I’ve found the courage to change the things I can, one day at a time.

I felt pretty brave with my dog Max until the day a bear snuck up behind us. He let out a little whimper just before he left me in his dust. I happen to know Jesus ain’t afraid of no bear, or any other fear that can come my way.

“It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“It isn’t for the moment you are stuck that you need courage, but for the long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security.”- Anne Morrow Lindbergh


The Search For Serenity

*The Search for Serenity is the second installment in The Serenity Prayer Series.

“God, grant me the serenity…”

When my knees were younger, I played tennis. Not well, or often, but I enjoyed running around the court and whacking the ball over the net. Once, in the midst of a rally, a bee stung me on the ankle. Hours later, an allergy I didn’t know I had launched an all-out assault of hives, accompanied by a relentless itch deep within each joint of my body. The hives were unnerving but the itching almost drove me to the edge. Because I was young and stupid, it didn’t occur to me to go to the doctor. The symptoms came and went for a week, leaving me miserable in my own skin. Had I known Benadryl would ease my suffering, I’d have been popping those little pink pills faster than Serena Williams can serve. I was too dumb to seek relief from my pain.

The naivete I displayed in ignoring a systemic allergic reaction was unfortunately similar to how clueless I was in dealing with emotional pain. As the oldest child in a family beset by mental illness, the others bounced off me like a trampoline. My bipolar father had survived Nazi captivity but eventually descended into madness, venting his fury on my brothers and me. My mother worked constantly. She kept us fed, clothed, and housed while I juggled housework, childcare, and school. The responsibilities were staggering but the violence pushed me to the edge. I was miserable in my own skin until the day I found marijuana. I was fifteen. For the first time, my soul stopped screaming. Finally, I had found relief from my pain.

Serenity: the opposite of emotional pain; the state of being calm, peaceful, tranquil. We seek it, pursue it, crave it. Some of us drink or drug to find it; some run or exercise for the high. In the sweet buy-and-buy we shop for clothes we don’t need and cars we can’t afford. Most of these pursuits are not sinful in and of themselves, but they are no substitute for the peace of God. But why invest time and effort in getting to know the Almighty when we can feel better (faster) with a quick trip to the liquor store, the gym, or the mall?

Because: Every earthly pursuit exacts a price. Every addict knows the depression of coming down; every alcoholic faces the morning after. Clothes fade, cars depreciate, and the bills stack up at the end of the month. While physical endeavors are good for the body and soul, they can’t take the place of relationship with God; even the strongest knees give out eventually. We are left squirming in our pain with nowhere to go, unless we know we can go to the Lord.

I drank and drugged because substance abuse eased the pain, at least until I sobered up. Those habits led to alcoholism and addiction, the bottomless pit of despair. Sitting in church I pleaded with God to miraculously deliver me. Instead, He introduced me to people who taught me this prayer as part of how to live in the light. From Day One of recovery, God has continually answered my pleas for serenity. I have learned to live comfortably in my own skin, in spite of what happened before, in light of what I’ve done since, and in anticipation of whatever would come in the future. Never once has the Lord denied me serenity when I further surrendered to these terms:

To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.

When my heart was younger, it broke every time my father beat us, especially the vicious attacks on my brother Matthew (may God rest his soul). It broke every time I tried to quit drinking, only to pick up again. In a thousand failures from my life in addiction to the simpler failures of life in sobriety, I’ve found only one answer that brings healing to my heart and serenity to my soul: the endless, timeless love of God through forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Thank you, Lord. To God be the glory forever and ever, Amen!

©2011 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

For more information on addiction recovery through faith in God, please visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com/

The Exclamation Point of Surrender

*The Exclamation Point of Surrender is the first in The Serenity Prayer Series.

Just
     “God”

Not reverently, like

     “Almighty God”
     “Most High”
     “Creator of Heaven and Earth”
     “I AM WHO I AM”

Not endearingly, like

     “Dear God”
     “My Father”
     “Jesus, My Savior”
     “Oh Lord”

Not claiming a single promise, or fawning in search of favor

     “God, who relents from sending calamity”
     “God, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”
     “O compassionate and gracious God.”

Just one word. Without the “Dear” or the “O,” or any address whatsoever. The speaker prays with urgency. The first word of the Serenity Prayer screams immediacy, with no time for title; no need to clarify the address of the recipient or the qualifications of the sender. No “in reference to,” flowery prose, or unnecessary details. God’s child needs help, and she needs it now. So the cry goes up from the church basement or the doctor’s office or from detox in a crummy part of town. Whether this daughter of the King can’t stop drinking, or using, or finds herself in circumstances beyond her ability to endure, this much is certain: she’s desperate and knows God can help her.

All my life I believed in the existence of a Supreme Being, but I began to learn about the God of the Bible when I was a young mother many years ago. My mentor pretty much forced me to go to a Bible Study with other young moms, church ladies-in-waiting with babies in tow. I prayed with all the sincerity I could muster, but my petitions consisted mostly of “Oh God, oh God, I’m so sorry. I won’t drink again tonight, I swear.” And I meant every word of it, until about 5:00 PM. When my hands started shaking I’d reach for the brandy, just to take the edge off while I was cooking dinner. Next thing I knew it was morning and I was sorry, so sorry, I won’t do it again, I promise. This included Tuesdays, when I’d pack Catherine up and totter across town to Bible Study.

Now there was this one church lady who was quite open about being a recovering alcoholic. Secretly I watched her live and laugh and love her kids, just like the rest of us. Secretly I was in awe of her. How could she go two days without alcohol, much less the two years I spent observing her? But on a sub-zero Sunday, in an early morning service, God responded to all my apologies with a Voice that thundered through my soul. I went home, poured my brandy down the drain, and called the lady who could laugh and love and make dinner without drinking. She took me to my first AA meeting, and I heard the Serenity Prayer. I’ve loved it ever since.

Far from being a too-familiar, almost insubordinate way of addressing the Almighty, I believe that the opening word of the Serenity Prayer is the exclamation point of surrender. Our urgency admits we need help, and that help can come from Almighty God alone. In the weeks to come I’ll be sharing my experience, strength, and hope through the framework of this famous piece. If you receive this post by email, you can click on the link to visit my blog home. There you will find a copy of the prayer, as well as a very brief history. To God as He is revealed in the face of Jesus Christ- the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, be the glory; for now and evermore. Amen!

©2011 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

For more information on recovery and Jesus, too, visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com

 

What Do I REALLY Believe?

“Only the self-deceived will claim perfect freedom from fear.”– Bill W. (Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous)

The cold swept in just ahead of the dark; the coldest day so far this winter, with overnight temperatures forecast at twenty below. We pulled into the driveway after a long day at the emergency room, tired and hungry and six thousand dollars poorer than we were at breakfast. If I didn’t know that God had a plan for all my days (Psalm 139:16) I might have been tempted to knock a few off the end of my lifespan. It had been a long time since I’d been this low.

Since late December I’ve been short of breath, and last week my chest started to hurt. Sounds like a reasonable excuse for a trip to the doctor. But with a $4000.00 deductible and a $3,000.00 out of pocket expense, I’ve tried to avoid spending the money. Good thing, too, since the economic downturn wiped out our savings and has me clipping coupons to save a dollar here, a dollar there. We are grateful we still have our house, and we’ve just begun to recover financially. I figured that, if we were really careful, we might make it out of this hole.

For a month I agonized over going to the doctor, just trying to wait it out. But always in the back of mind is June 8, 2005: the day my brother Matt passed away. He developed chest pain at work, went home, writhed on the sofa for a few minutes, and died. The neighbors noticed his truck parked askew, looked in his window, and broke down the door. It was too late. He was forty-eight, my little brother, dragged from this life down the same heart attack trail our father traveled when he was sixty-one. Dropped like a sack of dirt. It’s not the worst way to go, but I’d gladly settle for passing gently in my sleep when I’m no longer in my right mind.

So, I bit the bullet and went to the doctor, who immediately sent me to the ER. After four hours of poking and sticking and prodding and pictures they cheerfully announced I was in no imminent danger, “so go on home and c’mon back tomorrow for MORE tests. Oh, and here’s your bill. Do you want to take care of this now?”

Fighting the urge to clutch at my heart (there’s undoubtedly a charge for that) I stumbled out the door and into the cold, even asking Kevin to drive home- a rare occurrence indeed. The self-flagellation began before we left the parking lot, and by the time we pulled into the driveway I was in full self-hatred mode. How could I be so dumb? So thoughtless? How could I do this to my family? Would God forgive me even though I should have just toughed this out? Would He think I was just crazy and stupid, and if we do lose everything, it’s all my fault?

My best thinking said to me, “The only way it would be okay to spend $6,000.00 is to prove I’m dying.”

My best thinking said, “God may forgive you for making such a dumb decision, but your family’s financial insecurity is now your fault.”

So I lay awake half of last night, beating the crap out of myself emotionally and figuring God isn’t going to bail me out of making such a selfish choice. I still don’t know why I’m short of breath or why my chest hurts; more tests are scheduled tomorrow and the next day. The only good news is that once we pay the seven thousand dollars, insurance will pay the rest. But seven thousand is so much more than we have I cry just thinking about it.

By the morning’s light, all of this gave me pause to consider: For someone who says her best friend is Jesus (hence my website, http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com), why do I not believe He will provide for us? Does His provision EVER depend upon my performance? Does He really shake His head over my self-centered concerns, deeming me beyond hope because I put my fears above my family?

I believe I have fallen prey to the illusion that God takes care of me because I do my best to follow Him, and make the best possible decisions for everyone involved; moreover, if I only had enough faith, I would have heard Him shouting, “Buck up and wait it out, dummy!” My best thinking seems to run contrary to what God actually says. I believe I’ve been listening to a lie; or rather, a liar. I believe Satan’s been whispering in my ear.

I believe it’s time I look to the Bible to remember what God actually does say about me, and about all those who have given their lives to Christ:

I am God’s child. John 1:12
I am Christ’s friend.  John 15:15
I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins.  Colossians 1:14
I am complete in Christ.  Colossians 2:10
I am free forever from condemnation.  Romans 8:1-2
I am free from condemning charges against me.  Romans 8:31-34
I cannot be separated from the love of Christ.  Romans 8:35-39
I have not been given a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power,
   of love, and of a sound mind.  2 Timothy 1:7
I can find grace and mercy in my time of need.  Hebrews 4:16
I am born of God, and the evil one cannot touch me.  1 John 5:18
I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.  Ephesians 2:6
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:13.

(Excerpted from Living Free in Christ by Dr. Neil Anderson)

I believe Bill W. was absolutely right when he said, “Only the self-deceived will claim perfect freedom from fear.” But as a follower of Jesus Christ, I’ve been given the promises of God’s Word. When I fall into the arms of Jesus and seek His truth, I am rescued from both “my own best thinking” as well as the enemy who hates me. The truth can set me free.

Though the sun shone brightly today, it never warmed up and forecasters have plastered their minus signs all over the Colorado map. We’re in for another cold one tonight. But rather than lying awake and listening to the voice of the enemy taunting me into fear, I’ll remember this promise and repeat as necessary until my thoughts slide into a warm and friendly darkness:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”– Jesus Christ (John 14:27 NIV)

Beats the heck of counting sheep.

© Rachel Ophoff, 2011, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Find out more about Him on my website: http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com .

 

Looking Forward to Heaven With the Eyes of My Heart

Sunday, January 23 marks the anniversary of my daughter Catherine’s death. At the age of fourteen she died in a snowmobile accident on a sunny Sunday afternoon, enjoying an outing with her friends from church.

In the eleven years since her passing, I’ve made some important choices, but one stands out above the rest. I chose to seek God in the midst of the tragedy.

In the years and the months, the weeks and the days leading up to the accident, we as a family lived a life of faith as best we knew how. All four of us had invited Jesus Christ into our hearts as Lord and Savior, and accepted salvation through His death on the cross. We had given Him free reign in our lives (again, as best we knew how) and prayed for each other in faith every day.

You can imagine our shock and rage at this turn of events. As far as we could tell, our prayers for Catherine’s safety had fallen on deaf ears. The Lord we thought we knew had been replaced by an impersonal, uncaring God who allowed our daughter to die horribly before she really had a chance to live. Our pain defied description, underscored by a sense of betrayal by the Jesus we had taught our children to love.

But the three of us who remained made one major decision, and it was that decision that saved us. We went to the Bible, the source of our answers before the disaster, and sought to understand a God who would allow such a heartache. We, who had endeavored to follow Him wholeheartedly, hurled the same questions as Job, and prayed the same laments as King David (both grieving parents themselves.) Finally, we followed Christ to the cross, only to hear the magnificent promise given to the thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And finally, as far as we could go in the Word of God, we followed them to Heaven, reading everything the Bible had to say about the home where Catherine waits for us. Though we cannot understand the ways of God (Isaiah 55: 8-9) He gave us enough to cling to for the days we still have here on Earth.

Today, I look forward to Heaven with the eyes of my heart. Catherine- we miss you, honey. To everyone else: if I have only one message I can share with you, it is this: Jesus is always enough. Between His saving grace and the power of His Word, He gives His followers strength for today and hope for tomorrow. If He can keep this addict clean, this alcoholic sober, and this grieving mom from losing her mind, He is enough for anyone and everyone. To God be the glory, Amen!

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am. You know the way to the place I am going.” – Jesus Christ, on the night He was betrayed (John 14:1-4 NIV)

Do you know the way? If you would like to know more about friendship with Jesus, visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com

©Rachel Ophoff, 2011, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC, All Rights Reserved.

One Ordinary Day at a Time

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.”- Mary Jean Irion

It was crazy cold that Sunday, twenty-two years ago this weekend in Aspen, Colorado. Well below zero before the sun came up, I snuck into our church’s early service, my last drink not twelve hours past. In the course of an hour on this ordinary day, God spoke to me through a passage (or rather, He thundered) assuring me He would help me get sober today, but to make no mistake: Today was the day.

Every ordinary day He’d been whispering a warning, and every ordinary morning I had wallowed in defeat. “Oh God, Oh God, I’m so sorry. I won’t drink again tonight, I promise. Please forgive me.” But the addiction was as relentless as the pain in my soul, and every late afternoon the demon demanded her due. She’d smile as I poured my first tumbler of brandy, and I caved in to the warmth that flowed through my veins.

“Don’t you feel better now?” she’d purr with each glass. And each refill welcomed the haze that sheltered my shame until the sun rose again. When I’d open my eyes my heart would break, and she’d throw back her head and laugh. Lest I lean toward the hope of a new day each dawn, she’d grab me by the bottle and dance me down the hall, to late afternoon, to the time of the dark. This was the way of my life, one ordinary day at a time.

Until this one Sunday morning. Having whispered His warnings for months up ’til now, the time of quiet prodding had passed. This morning’s thunder through the words of Isaiah left me terrified in the presence of a God I’d barely met. New to the faith game, my best intentions led me to substitute alcohol for all my other illicit substances. The seemingly perfect answer was legal, socially acceptable, and could hold the sickness of my soul at bay. Attending church on Sunday I felt I could pass for “normal”: a young wife and mother, just trying to fit in. No one need know about my afternoon retreats into the realm of the numb, in the privacy of my own home.

But sickness of the soul has a way of escaping, and she came out of hiding at the least opportune times. Refusing to remain within the boundaries I’d set for her, she’d also invite that blackberry brandy that kicked like a mule. “Come join us!” she’d say. “Take the afternoon off! You know you want to.”

So, the hazy days passed, first weeks and then months. In the fall of 1988 I surrendered the hope of a life without alcohol. I couldn’t bear the thought of living in my own skin without anesthesia, and despite my best efforts, I was unable to leave the bottle alone. She laughed as I struggled, the willing prisoner who didn’t even blame the demon; she only blamed herself.

The demon was uncharacteristically quiet this cold Sunday morning: January 15, 1989. I drove from the church to a park near my home. With the temperature still well below zero I prayed in the car.

“Okay, Lord, PLEASE help me. I can’t do this alone, and we both know it. I can’t do it at all. You’ll have to do this. God, please. Help me.”

Once more I opened my Bible to the promise He gave me; once given to the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah:

But now, this is what the LORD says- he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name, and you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’

(Isaiah 43:1-3 NIV)

And on this bitter cold morning, on an ordinary day, the demon screamed, “foul!” as the Lord took my hand. She fled in a fury as we picked up the phone, calling a friend who would take me for help. The first lesson I learned was the gift of one day. One day at a time, I learned to live without drinking. One day at a time, He helped me recover. I began to realize that ordinary days are extraordinary days when the God of the Universe is the Lord of my life. For twenty-two years now of “one day at a time,” He has walked me through waters that have not passed me over. He’s walked me through rivers that have not swept me away. The fires of pain haven’t burned me forever, for He is the LORD, the God of each day.

On this, one of thousands of extraordinary days, I thank the Lord God Almighty, His Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, my husband Kevin, both of my kids, my friends and supporters for the gift of my life and sobriety. To God be the glory. Amen!

©Rachel Ophoff, 2011, Coconut Mountain Communications, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com

The Bridge to Sally’s House

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…and a time to build up.”– The Teacher (Ecclesiastes 3:1,3 NAS)

“The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within- strength, courage, dignity.”– Ruby Dee.

If I weren’t so OCD, I could find my way to Sally’s house without checking the map. My house to Denver, then Denver to Orlando. After I get my rental car it’s less than an hour to the coast, bop over a couple of bridges, and before you know it, I’m home away from home.

I know better than to argue with her over where I’m going to sleep. “The kids have to get up early for school. You take my room so they don’t disturb you.” These aren’t kids anymore- they are working their way through college and living with Mom. I may catch a glimpse of them coming or going, but I don’t see much of them. Neither does she, but they are the reason she gets up every morning and goes to work.

Not this morning, though; she’s spending the day with me. She puts on a pot of coffee, lights her first cigarette, and with characteristic directness observes, “I suppose you want to go to the beach.” I just left Colorado in the dead of winter- what do you think? She lives one bridge away from the shoreline at Cocoa, another from the Kennedy Space Center. This perfect January day is warm and sunny, so we join the crowd over by the pier. The sand is hard-packed, perfect for a long walk; but we sit and watch the water. Her right foot is a little crippled from the car accident so long ago, courtesy of a less-than-sober boyfriend. Her mom snuck me into the ICU as family when her life hung in limbo. Passing as sisters was easy; watching her recover was hard. Thirty-five years since the accident and not a day without pain. But she knows I love to walk, and my late-middle-aged brain sometimes forgets how much it hurts her. She never forgets.

To say our friendship was made in Heaven would crack us all up- me, Sally, even Jesus. We were freewheeling teenage girls without a compass, working together at the local supermarket. Our parents evicted us simultaneously so we moved in together. In retrospect, I can scarcely believe we survived. We knew a little about taking care of ourselves, but nothing about boys or alcohol or the meaning of life. I could say the Seventies were a simpler time, but in reality we just acted like simpletons. For reasons known only to Him, God gave us each other so we wouldn’t get lost.

Our twenties and thirties were a jumble of growing up and moving on. Neither of us was a good bet for becoming a  responsible adult, but God had other plans. We each married and had two children. Both of us survived addiction recovery; she survived her husband’s, I survived my own. Both of us weathered the challenges of marriage as well as the crazy demands of parenthood. Sometimes we went years without talking just because the stresses of work and family drained us dry, but eventually the phone would ring and we’d pick up as if we had never left off. To sustain a friendship for almost forty years over two thousand miles seems like a miracle, but the real miracle was that we each found Jesus Christ. Neither of us could have survived our forties without Him.

We rolled into our fifties changed women. Sally was widowed nine years ago when Bob died of cancer; she called me with his diagnosis shortly after Catherine died. Whatever childish ways we held onto vanished in the face of death. I could only keep my sanity by surrendering my all to God; she could only take on the multiple roles of mother, father, and sole provider by praying for wisdom, courage, and provision. Our conversations took on a deeper tone because we lived on a deeper level. Suffering our grievous blows gave us a shared perspective; finding faith in Jesus gave us a common hope. While the folly of our youth still gives us a good laugh, our shared faith binds us as sisters. We have built a solid house of friendship that weathers the storms of life.

These days, I see her growing in beauty even as our bodies betray our age. The vanity of her youth has given way to self-sacrifice on behalf of her kids. She hasn’t bought herself new clothes in too many years, but her kids have a home and an opportunity for education. She spends her Saturdays limping along behind the lawnmower under the blazing Florida sun, working on her house and saving her money. Someday when we’re both flush we’ll take a vacation together, provided we live that long. But whether we do or don’t, I’ll find a way to get back to Sally’s house, my home away from home. It’s just a couple of bops over the bridge, from my house to Denver to Orlando.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”– Jesus Christ (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)

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