Archive for Friendship

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.

Glory On the Other Side of the Storm

In satellite images they seem almost solid, like you could hop down onto the swirl of clouds and bounce your way across the Caribbean. Astronauts’ photos capture the spirals of silver thunderheads cartwheeling against a deep blue sea. From the heaven side, hurricanes are magnificent: silent, beautiful, powerful. From the earth side, not so much.

As a kid in Miami, I found them exhausting. Battening down the hatches, riding out the storm, and living without power were just the beginning. For weeks afterward we’d work our tails off clearing the carnage. On the earth side of the storm it seemed all was broken: budgets and branches, houses and hearts. The grownups were grumpy and the yard was a mess.

But in South Florida, renewal springs eternal like a fungus you can’t get rid of. Drenching downpours and a scorching sun smother the land in humidity soup, ensuring Nature’s speedy recovery. Life goes on in a hurry. Survivors have precious little time to decide if they want to participate, as mold has already started growing in their closets. The sun will come out tomorrow, all right- but it will roast you in your recliner if you don’t patch the roof today.

So with sweat in their eyes they hammer and saw, repairing the damage and rebuilding their homes, all the while knowing that hurricane season comes every year. How do they do it? How do they keep their faith alive with wild winds ever on the horizon?

How do we?

Jesus told his disciples (and us, by John’s account) “In this life, you will have trouble.” (John 16:33 NIV) This does not sound like good news. But in the next breath he encourages us with these words:

“But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Like spirals of silver across the deep blue sea, Jesus sees our troubles from the Heaven side of eternity. Could it be that overcoming the world offers a view of our struggles as ongoing works of art: magnificent, beautiful, powerful? We know that our cries for help and mercy aren’t lost on the wings of the wind. Jesus remembers what it was like to live here on Earth, and he is ever interceding for us at the right hand of the Father. (Romans 8:34) But how does that help? What does renewal look like in the face of a broken heart?

Hurricanes drive us to Home Depot. Heartache should drive us to God’s Word. The apostle Paul knew more heartache than most of us will ever have to endure, but he had a promise from God that he shared with the church, and also with us:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV)

The rain may drive in a sideways slant and the wind blow down your trees, but the temporary shelter we call hope is open ’til the day we go home to Heaven. So let’s grab the hammer and patch the roof; renewal is ours if we choose it. Glory is just on the other side of the storm.

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

Please 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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