Archive for Jesus

And The Light Shines Steadily On

Twisting my body behind the furniture to plug in the lights, I never saw the tabletop tree go over the edge; I just felt the cord go taut in my hand. The crash was louder than I’d expected. Small wonder: Joseph and the Magi were caught in the swath of destruction and dragged to their deaths. Kneeling amidst the carnage, I surveyed the damage. My heart sank as I fingered the words “Our First Christmas, 1982” from a precious silver ornament. Ironically, the lights I’d managed to plug in shone steadily on, oblivious to the broken glass.

Before today, this tiny tree had seen only one Christmas- a long time ago, the year our daughter died. Kevin and I knew we owed our son a real holiday, but the best we could manage was a tree from a box three feet high. It was a far cry from the trophies we had cut from the forest. Still, the colored lights cast a steady glow that got us through that first season.

Lighter spirits and better years slowly renewed our celebrations. Jesse grew up, went off to college, but always came home in December. Whether he was home for a day or a month, we dragged out all our holiday kitsch and decked the halls with abandon. This past year brought yet another transition as he married the love of his life. Turns out her family celebrates Christmas, too. So we’re back to just decking the coffee table, but the lights shine steadily on.

Change. When is it ever more noticeable than at Christmas? Decorations and traditions are hauled out of storage and set like a table: a feast of the familiar for hungry hearts. Regardless of life’s twists and turns, or perhaps because of them, we find comfort and joy in our holiday traditions. Mercifully, we tend to forget the hassles and hurts of Christmases past and cherish the memories of happier times. This is a good thing until circumstances alter the agenda. Please pass us the turkey and icky green jello, but hold off on the platter of change.

Ironically, Christmas is all about change.

An obscure Jewish teenager screamed her way through childbirth in the middle of nowhere and God came squalling into the night. In His short thirty-three years, from the first human cry to His final “It is finished”* Jesus Christ redirected the course of human destiny by taking our sins to the grave. The beloved carol Joy to the World** says it well:

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings known
Far as the curse is found

What we now herald as glad tidings caught almost everyone off-guard. Even the Jews, long awaiting the Messiah foretold through prophecy, were expecting a military leader who would deliver them from Roman rule. Instead they got Jesus: an itinerate rabbi of uncertain parentage who claimed to be Emmanuel, God With Us. His offer to lighten their loads and forgive their sins met with rejection, scorn, and finally, execution. Even change for the better can upset the status quo and irritate people who just want their icky green jello the way it’s always been.

The good news is that His light shines steadily on. Killing Him only fulfilled His destiny, and gave us the greatest gift of all time. No more are we powerless to let our sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest our ground. He came and made His blessings known in our lives, and beyond: far as the curse is found.

Kevin came home from work to find half a nativity scene and the remnants of the  “Our First Christmas” ornament in the trash. In unison, we sighed. We’ve seen loss before. Rather than replacing those who perished in the fall, we decided the scene is a lot like us- missing a few members, but faithful just the same. Together we’ll celebrate Christmas: the Light that shines steadily on.

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

Please visit my website at Friendship With Jesus

*John 19:30 NIV
** Joy To The World! Issac Watts/George F. Handel



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.

Christmas In My Brown Paper Castle

“How blind are men to Heaven’s gifts!” -Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, (39-65 AD) De Bello Civili Bk. V, 1. 528

Ripping through paper and tugging on ribbon, my kids were each about three years old when they discovered this basic truth about presents: sometimes the box seems better than the gift inside. For all my thoughtful choices of educational toys and books, their imaginations went wild when faced with cardboard possibilities. They could sail on the sea or fly to the stars! These humble remnants of sacred trees became space capsules and sailing ships, playhouses and forts, fire engines and jets. After a couple weeks of loving abuse the kids lost interest, the boxes collapsed, and I quietly folded them into the trash. The books and toys from Christmas morning looked a lot better in the light of the new year. Cardboard castles kept them happy for a while, but my kids needed more to grow into their lives.

Just before I had kids, soon after Kevin and I were married, I found out that God loved me. The gift changed my life, and certainly the way I viewed Christmas. Ribbons and wrappings of sentimentality tugged at my heartstrings every year as the holidays approached. Carols and bell-ringers and all manner of cheer brought me to tears, and I treasured the package of Christ’s love for me. So beautiful was the gift I took great care not to even tear the outer paper, just peeking inside to find His story. But like toddlers exploring their brown paper castles, I could only grow up as fast as I was able. Soon enough, the Lord would invite me to learn what was inside the box.

Decembers came and went, and my kids grew up and into their lives, until a January day when Catherine died. She was my firstborn, my only daughter, now alive only in memories of boxes and castles in our make-believe world. In a murderous rage I ripped the sentimental trappings of my love for Jesus from the plain brown cardboard, tearing open the box to see if there was anything worth keeping from this seemingly useless faith.

Without its brightly-colored paper, the box just seemed old and worn; humble remnants of a sacred tree holding only a story stained with blood. While the Biblical account of Christmas reads familiar and sweet, the life story of Christ is savage and sad. He was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering (Isaiah 53:3), giving all that He had for the children He loved. In the months, then the years following Catherine’s death, I read and raged and searched for comfort, for reason, for an explanation. Like toddlers exploring their brown paper castles, I could only grow up as fast as I was able. But in time, I found the box and the story it held to be my most treasured possession. The story held the answers, and Jesus held me.

Under the tree this year are brightly-colored gifts from Kevin and Jesse, and the Santa hat Catherine wore every year. God has graciously lent us an amazing son, and we are grateful beyond words for the privilege of having raised him. With all my heart I believe the promise of Heaven (John 14:1-4) and that Jesus is holding Catherine close to His heart, and I have finally grown out of my cardboard castle. It kept me happy for a while, but I needed to grow into my life with Him. And the ribbons and wrappings of sentimentality to celebrate the birth of our Savior? I’m always a sucker for a good Christmas story.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV)

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

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

Merry Christmas to All!

Waiting For the Sun to Come Out

When darkness veils His lovely face I rest on His unchanging grace…

Sometimes, when we least expect it, dark clouds roll in from the sea. Thunderheads form along the horizon and the rain sweeps ashore before lunch. We grab our stuff and run for cover, duck into the car, and watch the windows steam up.

Do we give up hope for a day at the beach, or wait for the sun to come out?

Sometimes in life, when we least expect it, troubles roll in on the wind. The forecast may have called for fair skies but the dark cloud of recession blew in, or our health gave out, or a child went astray. Fill in the blank with your own thunderhead. The question becomes: Do we give up hope, or wait for the sun to come out? And what shall we do while we wait?

Seven months have passed since my last rained-out beach day; at long last, I feel like the worst is over. At first I cowered in the car as lightning flashed and thunder roared. The windows fogged up, which was fine with me; I locked the doors and hid under my blanket. But when I finally had to decide whether to breathe or not to breathe, I rolled down the windows and let the tempest blow through. Unexpectedly, but just as He promised, God came in with the weather. He was all I could see at the height of the storm, but He brought all I needed to survive:

Some people to care for
His Word to sustain me
The love of my family
The support of my friends

Now that the downpour has slowed to a drizzle, I step out into air freshened by the rain. The wind is gentle, the sea calm. Down the coast, sunlight shines on a distant shore.

…In every high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil
On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand.*

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

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

*The Solid Rock/Composer William B. Bradbury, Author Edward Mote

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 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

 

Treasures of Darkness

I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.- Isaiah 45:3 NIV

Their roster reads like a Who’s Who of those blessed by God. The authors of this anthology wrote of miraculous healings and divine deliverances; finally I closed the book and tucked it into the seat pocket in front of me. The drone of jet engines drowned out all but my thoughts as I pondered how my relationship with God changed when Catherine died.

In January 2000 our 14-year-old daughter died in an accident. Though our faith certainly sustained us in the moment, the following years erupted with hard questions about the Lord’s love, His plan, and ultimately His character. For all her short life we had prayed for her. Her dad and I tried to do the Christian life “right.” So why did God say no to our prayers for her safety, while saying yes to other parents in similar situations?

Inspirational stories of those healed and delivered from harm drove me crazy with fury and doubt. For years I simply avoided reading them, and now I wondered why I brought this book on vacation. But as I leaned back in the seat and closed my eyes, I was surprised to realize that reading these stories no longer causes me to doubt God’s love. I know God better because Catherine died. The warmth of His love enfolded me as I cuddled up in the airline’s blue blanket.

In those early years, I raged against God. I wanted answers, and I wanted them right away. I read the Bible again and again, and I learned.

When Catherine died, God’s heart broke with mine even as it celebrated with hers. I will be with them both before I know it. The search almost killed me but it lead me to the treasure: a love affair with Jesus and the solid hope of Eternity. Oh, I still forget to trust Him sometimes; but when I do, He sends a message- through His Word, through nature, through the prayers of a friend. And once again, I cast my cares at His feet.

Sometimes I feel like waiting for Heaven is like flying to Hawaii- it’s a long, arduous, frequently uncomfortable trip. But the destination is worth the wait. Two weeks ago, Kevin and I sat in the shade by the sea, celebrating the joy of Easter with God’s people. The breeze ruffled my hair as the worship team jammed in praise. Men in aloha shirts and women with flowers in their hair closed their eyes and raised their hands to Jesus. I was grateful for the moment, and for the Spirit of God who lives within us. But on this special Sunday, He sent me a gift to remind me of my daughter. That first Easter morning, Christ threw open the door to Heaven; there she now waits for me.

The raucous praise of the worship team gave way to the voice of one man with a ukulele. He strummed and sang Catherine’s favorite song, Shout to the Lord, in his native Hawaiian. Two yellow butterflies danced through the leaves above my head.
Tears ran down my face as Heaven touched Earth, just for me. I have learned to love the treasures God gave me in in darkness; I hold them close as I dance in the light.

My name has been added to the roster: I’m listed in the Who’s Who of one blessed by His love. He has summoned me by name- I am His, and He is mine. To God be the glory- Amen!

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

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



Battered Baggage and a Pacific Breeze

As the crow flies it’s 3210 miles from our house to the Big Island, but United must have consulted a dodo, routing us through Denver, Portland, and San Francisco on our way out of town. Just past dusk on the second day we flew into Kailua-Kona’s tiny airport; almost midnight Colorado time. My jet lag hadn’t even begun to catch up with the stress I’d brought from home. I was dragging a soul that was tired and torn, attacked and distraught. I hadn’t slept well in weeks.

We picked up our rental car, stopped at the supermarket, and (after a few wrong turns) found our condo in the dark. Sweat beaded up under our Colorado clothes in the Hawaiian humidity as we hauled our luggage up the stairs, adding to the already weird feelings generated by food court nutrition, fatigue, and a generous coating of travel cooties. Finally we got the bags inside and were just starting to get snippy with each other when Kevin pulled open the sliding glass door.

And the roar of the Pacific filled the room.

We stopped dead in our words. Waves crashed on the rocks one floor below us, leaving spray on the screen between us and the sea. A saltwater breeze wafted over our skin, and we looked at each other and grinned. We had made it. A year of scrimping and saving, months of toil without a break, and weeks of dealing with a difficult situation: all thousands of miles away. It was just the three of us now- me, Kevin, and God. We couldn’t wait to be together.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share the stories of ten remarkable days. While vacation always feels good, I can’t remember the last time I arrived feeling so beat up. Normally I give considerable thought and prayer to the devotionals and study materials I take traveling. This time, I hadn’t even brought my Bible. I was ready to lie down like Elijah in 1 Kings 19. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” ( 1 Kings 19:4b NIV) But just as God sent an angel to minister to Elijah and restore his strength, so the Lord himself ministered to me in ways I could never have imagined. Not because of anything I had done, or said, or deserved; only because I asked. He is my Father, my Lord, the Jesus who loves me. He never forsakes me, nor does He cease to amaze me.

I invite you to join me during the month of May as I share how God reminded me of His love, His power, and His mercy through sneaky crabs, snorkeling, and allowing the riffraff free access to the beach. What do sea turtles and the rings of Saturn have in common? The Lord God made them all, and showed them to me! Come with me and see the pictures He painted for this beat-up daughter, restoring my sanity and repairing my soul. To God be the glory! Amen.

From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God. (Romans 1:21 NLT)

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

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

Starfish Thrown from the Sea

On a Monday night the first week of April, dusk fell on the beach of Pawleys Island, South Carolina.

As the light faded the wind picked up, until the roar of the surf filled the void of the night. Residents fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing ashore. When dawn gently pulled the dark aside, those who walked by the early-morning sea were jarred by a sight both beautiful and disturbing, one they will never forget.

Starfish. Thousands and thousands of starfish, so covering the beach that from a distance they just appeared to be sand of a different texture. The wind-driven waves had scoured the ocean bottom, scraping these defenseless creatures loose from their moorings and hurling them wildly ashore. As the sun rose, they started to die, their tiny tube feet wiggling in the air in a futile attempt to get home.

Word spread, and people came down to the ocean to see. Beachcombers tossed some back into the water; tourists scavenged the skeletons as souvenirs. Eventually the fate of those left high and dry will be burial in the local landfill- starfish ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Who cares? They are just sea creatures- brainless, powerless, doomed to die someday anyway. The most compassionate among the shore people threw back as many as they could, though it’s doubtful any made it safely home to the rocks of deep water. They have no advocate save the God who made them; the same God who promised “not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father.”- (Matthew 10:29 paraphrased)

We as humans can do nothing to save the life of any creature- brilliant or brainless, potent or powerless. Sometimes we can prolong life, but all will die someday. Likewise, though we surpass the starfish in intellect and ability, we are just as powerless when waves churned by the storms of life sweep us into disaster. We are thrown upon the sand and left to die, not kicking our tiny feet but grasping at nothingness as our hearts break. Compassionate people may come alongside to pull us as far as they are able, but they can only drag us as far as the shallow water. God alone can pull us back into the deep.

We are saved in Christ the moment we accept His love and ask His forgiveness. He draws us to Himself and adopts us as children into His family. But we are not home yet. Sometimes the darkness falls and the wind picks up, and we are ripped from our moorings and washed up on shore. Sometimes it feels like we’ve been abandoned. But from the sands of the Sea of Galilee, where He fished and taught and listened to people, this same Jesus still walks the beach today. He listens for the cries of His children living here in this world; a hostile place that is not our home, not unlike sand for the starfish.

Today He plucked me from among the dying, having been seized by the storm and washed up half-dead. Taking off His sandals, He plunged headfirst into the wild water, towing me out through the towering waves toward the darker deep. He could have dropped me there, hoping I’d drift down to the bottom and find a rock I could cling to. The water was cold and night was falling; I wouldn’t have blamed Him for letting me go and saving Himself. Instead, He took a deep breath and together we dove. Fighting the current but reaching the rocks, He gently placed my fragile soul in the shelter before breathing His last and floating away.

It hurts every time I see my sin, and what my brainless, powerless life cost Him. But I sob from the safety of the cleft of the rock.

And that is the miracle of friendship with Jesus.

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

Please 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 .

 

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