Archive for Courage

Footprints in the Soot

Pyrocumulous clouds. I’d never even heard of them until now. In all my Colorado years I never dreamed I’d drive under an enormous column of fiery smoke, watching noon turn to twilight through eyes that watered in the heat. No one in their right minds would drive toward the fire but those who are called to save, or whose children lay in the path of danger, or a couple of in-laws-to-be like Kevin and me. We trusted the heroes battling the flames to keep this only road open; that their knowledge, hard work, and sacrifice would keep us safe.

To my relief the smoke thinned, the sun came back out, and we drove into the high mountain town of Creede. We will have new family here. Their Brooke and our Jesse are marrying in August, and we came to celebrate and get acquainted. The men took off to watch trees explode while we women threw a shower for Brooke. From their lovely garden amid flowers and lace, she opened presents against a backdrop of smoke billowing from fires to the south and west. These women are tough. They laughed when I asked them about shopping at the closest mall; the nearest city is just too far away. Summer here is about two hours long. They take care of each other, and the ones I’ve met trust God to take care of them.

As each shared a moment of marriage advice, I could almost smell the smoke of the fiery trials they’ve lived through. I was a stranger among them. But I know women; women of faith, who have watched as noon turned to twilight when darkness fell on their lives. They are like these women. They show up for each other no matter what. The smoke may be choking them while tears run from their eyes, but they gather and nurture and protect one another. Danger drops them to their knees where they storm the gates of Heaven on their sisters’ behalf. They’ve learned to trust the Hero. His children once lay in the path of danger, and only His sacrifice could make a way to safety. To paraphrase the great hymn: Because He lives, we can face tomorrow. Soot may cling to our skin and smoke to our hair, but we can walk through the flames by stepping in the footprints He left behind. He always leads us into the light.

Monday we drove out of Creede. The fire keeps growing and threatens the town. I am storming the gates of Heaven for a soaking Colorado rain, and for God’s hand of protection and provision to cover these people. I pray for this young couple, my son and daughter-to-be, who are so excited to walk the fiery pathways of marriage together. From where I can see there is no rain in the forecast and no exemption from the hardships life will bring. But I know my greatest triumphs left me covered in soot. I emerged from the fire by stepping into the footprints Jesus left behind. I trust the Hero who keeps me safe.

When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set your ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Isaiah 43:2b-3a

©2013 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Learning to Swim by Trusting the Lifeguard

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.– Psalm 32:8 NIV

Despite the miserable heat of Florida in July, a cold panic gripped my gut as I balanced over the deep end of the pool. Below me, golden sunlight danced in the depths. The undulating blue would have seemed inviting were it not for my terror of heights. Twelve feet of vertical air stood between me and my Intermediate Swimmer’s pin. Weeks of lessons and tests of endurance culminated in this one last obstacle: stepping off the high dive and into thin air.

In the summer of ’63 I was seven years old, a child of Miami with a perpetual tan. I never could stand the heat down there. No one had air conditioning in their houses back then, so we kids lived outdoors year-round. Watery dangers lurked everywhere. Sandwiched between the sea and the swamp, we lived on land coaxed out of the Everglades. A network of dangerous canals crisscrossed our neighborhoods to keep our houses from floating away. Learning to swim was not optional. That was fine with me ’til I faced the dreaded drop to the deep.

With kids lined up behind me, I turned and climbed back down the ladder. Shame burned my face as the panic subsided. One by one they leapt from the board, swam to the side, and collected their prize. Their moms met them and hugged them and pinned the awards to their suits. Finally all had jumped, and all had left, save for one patient mom, a petrified child, and the kindest lifeguard who ever lived: Robert.

To me, he was a grown man: tall, strong, unafraid. He was probably all of eighteen. No doubt working his way through his summer vacation, he had spent the morning administering tests with rigid Red Cross requirements. His lunch was waiting, the pool was just about to open to the public, and his job was to flunk me for refusing to leap off the board. Instead, he climbed the ladder with me. Standing together above the abyss, he held my hand and encouraged me to jump with him. He promised me two things: he wouldn’t make me, and he wouldn’t let anything happen to me.

We stood there a long, long time. He never threatened to leave me, or send me back to Advanced Beginners. He just waited.

Finally, we jumped. And I had been right- it was a long way to the water. Plunging deeply into the heart of the blue, the feeling of panic gave way to relief when I realized my hand was still firmly in his. We kicked our way skyward, came up to the surface, and swam to the side of the pool.

To this day, I remember feeling safe with him, trusting him, and the wave of gratitude that washed over my heart. Almost fifty years later I remember him vividly; I think because he was so like the Savior I eventually came to know. As I stand on the brink of a new year with its possibilities and pitfalls, I stand unafraid because Jesus holds my hand, my heart, and my life. Into the depths of 2012 we plunge!

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul– Deuteronomy 4:29 NIV

© 2012 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Please visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com.

Rising to the Occasion and Going One Step Beyond

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”– Jesus Christ (John 15:12-13 NIV)

September 10, 2011

Ten years ago we were glued to our televisions as we watched the Twin Towers fall and the Pentagon burn. We recoiled in horror as we imagined the fight in the cockpit of United Flight 93 over Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Our heroes were the firefighters and first responders at The World Trade Center, the passengers and flight crews who put up a fight, and the selfless souls who gave up their lives so others might live. The day that rocked our world defined drama and destiny; a real-life reenactment of the battle between good and evil, where brave souls wearing the face of Jesus lay down their lives to save strangers. The fury of hate was foiled by the face of love.

I’ve been watching television coverage of this solemn anniversary, and to the families of the fallen, I extend my sincerest condolences and grateful thanks. In no way do I wish to minimize the sacrifices made or the losses suffered. But I ask that we remember that as children of God, we too are called into battle every day. Our enemy masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) just as the terrorist strives to blend in with his target. He “prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV) Like the terrorist, he uses fear and intimidation to accomplish his purposes, striking when we least expect him in ways we could hardly imagine. If we read our Bible we know the enemy is out there and he hates us. We are fools if we ignore the danger. How, then, should we live?

The Department of Homeland Security works on our behalf to protect us from the terrorist threat. We take off our shoes at the airport, remove the scissors from our carry-on bags and submit to X-rays just to enter our government buildings. Nobody likes it but we put on our big-boy pants and act like grownups. That’s the price we pay to keep from getting blown up. Likewise, God gave us weapons to use in the war against Satan. Refusing to acknowledge we’re at war or assuming someone else will fight the battle for us is lazy, childish, and not particularly smart. If we’re not willing to rise to the occasion and use the tools He gave us, we can’t blame God when the devil finds a foothold and shakes the ground beneath our feet.

Our arsenal comes complete and can be found, item by item, in Ephesians 6:10-18. The firefighters who climbed the stairs at The World Trade Center each carried 110 pounds of equipment as they sweated their way up floor by floor. All we have to do is fall to our knees every morning and put on the armor of God. So we suit up and show up for war, understanding the one thing the firefighters must also have known:

Sometimes we lose the battle.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13 NIV) Sometimes all that’s left is a burned battlefield and one lone soldier silhouetted against a ragged sky. That’s what Ground Zero looked like after the towers fell. For all their courage and all their efforts, the buildings fell and people died. But because of their courage, and because of their efforts, many people lived. The firefighters did not die in vain, nor did the passengers of Flight 93; neither are our efforts for naught. We may lose the battle, but God will not lose the war. He will use our suffering for our good and His glory. To this end, He calls us to live one step beyond our own self-protection.

In the last verse in our list of armor, Paul writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18 NIV) The firefighters carried a backbreaking load of equipment not only to protect themselves, but to save those in danger. Likewise, we are responsible not only to pray for ourselves and our own protection, but to pray God’s armor over our loved ones, our friends, and our leaders. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” -Jesus Christ (John 15:12-13 NIV) Laying down our lives can be as simple as five minutes of prayer every morning for those in the line of fire, and those already under attack. It’s time to put on our big-boy pants and stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. It was the signature of the 9/11 heroes; it should also be God’s signature, written on us.

The fury of hate can only be foiled by the face of love. Alone, we are sitting ducks for the enemy abroad as well as the enemy within. But we are not alone. Let us put on our armor and join forces with others in prayer. Let us, as Jesus commands, lay down our lives (at least five minutes a day) for our communities, our troops, and our leaders. Let us remember the heroes who gave their own lives, as well as our Hero, who gave His for ours. Let us remember 9/11, and take up our weapons in the battle of good versus evil. We have a job to do.

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

Please visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com

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


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