Archive for Joy

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



The Prayers of My Farewells

One final trudge up the hill, bearing the sandy trappings of our last day on the beach: chairs and towels, cooler and blanket, boogey boards, books, and a backpack. One last trip in the roasting car, A/C blasting, merging onto the highway. Elbowing our way into line, we joined the throngs of beachgoers headed back to civilization; even more so for us, as our plane would be leaving tonight. My heart said goodbye to Hawaii.

These last ten days had been more than a vacation. The Lord not only granted us respite from the daily grind, but relief and some healing from a heartache back home. Just when I reached the point where I could simply watch the waves break instead of hearing my heart break, it was time to leave. Oh, for a few more days on Kona! But this sacred time will hold a special place with the prayers of my farewells, safe in the arms of God. He’s been gathering my sorrows where I left them on the sand like a beachcomber scavenging treasure.

When I was young, the tide was always rushing in. With each swell came fresh opportunities, new responsibilities, and a fullness of life that kept me afloat. Now the tide has turned, slowly pulling back the demands but also the richness of relationships that sprang from community. Once we were all in this together, but the ties that bound us have loosened. We’ve scattered: to different churches, different towns, different jobs. I’ve had to let go, not only of friends, but of family members, of my children, and of souls I’ve met through work and service. Some of these partings were easy; a few were welcomed; but most just tore the hole in my heart a little wider. My only comfort is the assurance that Heaven is coming. For those who know Jesus, the sun will someday rise on a beautiful, distant shore, and all those I love will be there. God will mend all that’s tattered and torn; He will wipe away every tear; He will heal every broken heart. Meanwhile, the prayers of my farewells rest safely in His arms.

The sun set over the Pacific as we flew from Kona to Oahu, rising over Asia as our planet welcomed her new day. From Honolulu we flew east through the dark of the night, until dawn broke over the Rockies on our way back into town. It’s time for me to welcome my new life in the light of the rising sun. The time for heartache has passed, and I’m ready to face the dawn. As always, and forever: To God be the glory. Amen!

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

To see my favorite books on Heaven, visit Coconut Mountain Communications Resource Pages

To visit my website for resources and more, visit Friendship With Jesus

Adrift With a Turtle to Guide Me

Let heaven and earth praise him,
          the seas and all that move in them. –
Psalm 69:34 NIV

Kekaha Kai State Park is hard to get to. From the Queen’s Highway all you see is lava stretching down to the ocean, save for a distant line of scrubby trees. The sign says the road is semi-paved. Maybe on Mars. Creeping through the lava field, we did come across the occasional memory of pavement between the craters. But we thought we’d beat the crowds in this out-of-the-way destination, and we were right.

Our reward lay beyond the dirt parking lot and through the trees, where a white-sand crescent sidled up to a turquoise bay. Palm trees presided over the north end of this half-moon paradise, and a lava-rock jetty marked the boundary south. We staked out our piece of shade around the halfway point and headed toward the only building in sight. I had hoped it was guest services…

But my hopes were dashed from a distance by a bright yellow ribbon of police tape. Did this mean the restroom was closed? Actually, it meant the restroom was gone. Back in March, the Tohoku-Oki Earthquake spawned the horrific tsunami that swept westward and swallowed the northeast coast of Japan. However, a similar wave swept east. Thankfully, the residents had ample time to evacuate, but the northwest coast of Kona took the brunt of Hawaii’s damage. Many buildings along the waterline were gutted, their contents sucked out to sea.

Beyond the building lay a barrier of debris washed ashore by the wave, so Kevin and I turned around and headed back down the beach. As we shuffled through the sand we noticed a sea turtle just a few yards offshore, paralleling our walk. No- make that two turtles. They seemed to follow us until we cut up into the rocks and back to our camp. Settling into our lawn chairs, we kicked back with a couple of cold sodas and watched in astonishment as one of the turtles came ashore and parked himself not far from our feet! Given the events of the day before, this was almost too much to believe.

A snorkel boat had taken us down the coast, anchoring over a coral reef. This particular cove offered not only coral but lava tubes, where the green limu grows. Sea turtles LOVE limu. Kevin swam off toward the colorful fish while I floated face-down, mesmerized by the beauty and grace of the turtle below me. In previous encounters I’d found these creatures to be shy, or at least sick of tourists following them around. But this one seemed to welcome my company, and together we drifted with the current for the better part of an hour. Six seasons snorkeling in Hawaii, and I’d never seen anything like it. I was enchanted, but the magic had only begun.

Back here on the beach, our fellow picnickers so pestered the turtle that he slipped back into the sea. Later, as the shadows lengthened, I walked alone to the rocky point at the southern boundary, looking for a place to pray. So narrow was this spit of land that crashing waves sprayed me with seawater from both sides. So narrow was my path that I couldn’t miss them on my left: two turtle heads, bobbing above the surface where the rough water pounded the rocks. I bent over to say hello, and one leaned as close as he could in my direction, working his jaw muscles with his head in the air like he was talking! We were only feet apart. I waved wildly at Kevin on the beach, hoping he would see me, but I was too far out and probably looked like a crazy woman flapping my arms in preparation for takeoff. With no one around to share my joy, I shared my thanks with the One who sent them.

Seven days had passed since we arrived in Kona. The state of my heart then resembled that public building after the tsunami: gutted, surrounded by debris, and cordoned off to prevent further damage. So broken was my heart I considered abandoning the assignment God had given me. “Just tell people what you know about Me.” Instead, I climbed up into His lap. He sent sneaky crabs to reassure me of His care, a cast-off book to remind me of His promises, and turtles galore to knock my socks off with His love. Only one more post remains to be written in this series: “A Tale of Two Beaches.” When the road holds more pitfalls than pavement, it helps to remember that this life ain’t all there is; a distant, glorious shore awaits. Thanks for following along. May God bless and keep you.

The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth,
   in the seas and all their depths.
-Psalm 135:6 NIV

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

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

 

Passion Week on Hamburger Reef

Dateline: Hamburger Reef, a stone’s throw off the pier at Georgetown, Grand Cayman. January, 2006.

No matter how fast I swam, they stayed just ahead of me. The school of blue tang moved in unison- flashing right, left, then darting over the rocks and out of sight. I struggled to keep up, only to lose them as they vanished into the void. The dark blue wall of the deep always makes me nervous- that’s where the big beasties live- so I gave up the chase and snorkeled back toward the reef. In the relative safety of the shallows I reveled in the colors of the corals and their ever-shifting patterns of sunlight and shadow. My heart beat simply in the bliss of the moment, until I came upon a silvery piece of junk wedged between two rocks.

A supermarket shopping cart. A shopping cart!

Finding man-made trash in this magical world jarred the bliss out of me. Dumbfounded, angry, and disgusted, I wondered how a shopping cart landed in the bay. I’ve seen reefs abused while snorkeling in poorer countries, but Grand Cayman? This nexus of Caribbean offshore banking is home to well-heeled visitors and wealthy second-home owners. What kind of vile offender would despoil the coral, the fragile and sacred home of the elusive blue tang?

Later I learned the vile offender was Hurricane Ivan. On September 12, 2004, a little over a year before my swim, this massive category-five yawned as he approached Grand Cayman and swallowed the island whole. Most roofs shredded in winds close to 200 mph. Twelve inches of rain joined forces with a ten-foot wall of seawater to cover this narrow spit of land, almost reclaiming it for the sea. Ivan finally blew off to the northwest, sucking the ocean off the island behind him and depositing a trail of debris across the bay, not limited to Food Mart’s errant cart.

Floating over the flotsam I chose to ignore the trash and marvel instead at God’s handiwork, snorkeling ’til my strength gave out. Dripping and salty, I clambered over the rocks and right up to Church Street, Georgetown’s main drag. From the wharf the view of the harbor is breathtaking. Cruise ships pull in and anchor each day, discharging their day-trippers to hit the beaches as well as the shops. Sixteen months after Ivan, the roofs closest to the port had been replaced, the shops repaired, and visitors were greeted by the Disney-esque downtown with a view of the sparkling sea. Only the locals knew of the devastation that remained.

Five years and four thousand miles away, this Passion Week calls me to examine the view from the harbor of my heart- both the sparkling surface of the sea as well as the depths, where storms deposit the occasional trash. Jesus has been the master repairman in my harbor for a few years now. He’s replaced my shredded roof and buffed out the stains on my heart, and I can even snorkel safely in the shallows most of the time. But every once in a while I come upon a shopping cart- twisted from the tempest, a blight on the handiwork of God. It jars the bliss right out of me. Dumbfounded, angry, and disgusted, I wonder: How did this trash come to land in my bay, and who can make it right? Alone, I can’t haul it from the water or transform it into something it’s not; nor do I want to leave it the way it is. Once again I call on the Master Repairman, who is also the Maker of the reef.

The Lord of creation knew trash would someday fall on the ocean floor, and He designed coral to be a living organism that heals. It builds its home on shipwrecks and downed planes and all manner of man-made disaster. In His time, and with His help, the broken always becomes the beautiful. Fish find a home amidst the colors of the corals and thrive in the ever-shifting patterns of sunlight and shadow. Together, Jesus and I look at the trash in my harbor, and by His suggestion, we leave it as it is. Its presence will warn me to guard my heart when the tempests blow by, and someday its structure will be home for the beautiful blue tang. Only the locals and the Lord of creation will know of the devastation that was, but hopefully many will see the healing that is to come. God can make all things beautiful in His time, including my heart.

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

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

Come Beee With Me

“Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”-Jesus to His disciples (Mark 6:31 NIV)

I just want to beeee with you.”- Jesse Ophoff, age 4 (1995)

Perfect snow. Deep blue skies, no wind, not too cold, and perfect snow. Now that we had two children, our ski days were few and far between. Scoring a kid-less Saturday with these conditions happened maybe once a winter. Catherine was off with a friend, so we dropped Jesse at Powder Pandas. Half daycare, half ski lessons, his sister had loved this place when she was little. This would be his second visit, and we talked it up as we drove towards Aspen.

He was less than enthusiastic about the opportunity. When we picked him up the first time, his teachers expressed some concern.

“He just didn’t want to be here.”

“What does that mean? Did he misbehave?”

“No, he just wasn’t happy. We tried everything. Maybe next time will be better.”

On the way home we had asked him about it. “What didn’t you like? Didn’t you have fun?”

“I couldn’t reach my cubby, and lunch was a burnt grilled cheese sandwich. I just want to be with you.”

“Well buddy, you have to learn to ski before you can come with us. Let’s try it one more time. Hang in there. It’ll be fun!”

We found him a cubby within reach, kissed him goodbye, and skied down to catch the lift. Soaring over the bunny slope, we reminisced on the fun Catherine had learning to ski there and just knew today would be Jesse’s day. Worries about my youngest faded away as the chairlift carried us up through forests of pine and fir. Everything I loved about skiing came together on this rare day out with my husband.

Before cell phones invaded the slopes, the ski patrol would scrawl urgent messages on dry-erase boards at the top of each lift. After an exhilarating first run, we caught the chair back up to the top. As we prepared to unload, the message board grabbed our attention:

Mr. & Mrs. Ophoff: Call the ski patrol immediately!


We flew off the lift and raced to the patrol hut. Adrenaline surged through my chest as I imagined a broken little leg or worse. The patrolman relayed Powder Pandas’ less-than-grim message: Jesse just really didn’t want to be there.

We skied to the bottom to collect our sobbing son. His leg may not have been broken, but his heart was.

“Honey, what’s the matter?”

“I just want to beee with you! I just want to beee with you!”

So ended Jesse’s ski school career. It wasn’t like we never left him- he went to preschool three days a week- but the thought of us having fun without him was more than he could take. The minor inconvenience he created one Saturday years ago became one of our favorite memories because before we could blink, the years passed. He learned to ski, and to drive, and went off to college before we could blink again. Now the tables have been turned, and we are grateful for the precious time we get to beee with him. Every now and then he comes home just to see us, because he knows how much we love him.

Every now and then, I hear the quiet voice of Jesus calling me to come spend time with Him. Unlike the daily habit of prayer and study, this is a call to leave my life behind for a few days. We’ve met in the desert and the forest, in the camper and with the dog. We’ve met in the quiet of off-season resorts, by the shore with no tourists and the slopes with no snow. Today I leave my precious Kevin behind to spend a few days alone with the lover of my soul and the Lord of my life. My prayer as I drive sounds much like the cry of my son, a preschooler’s sob for the parents he loved:

“I just want to beee with you. Don’t leave me behind!”

He never has, and He won’t today.

“Prayer is not artful monologue of voice uplifted from the sod;
It is Love’s tender dialog between the soul and God.”
-John Richard Moreland

“The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:11 NIV)

©Rachel Ophoff 2010, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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

Saddle Up, Bifocals in Place, Lock and Load

There is a time for everything, and a season for everything under heaven..and a time to die.– The Teacher (Ecclesiastes 3:2 NIV)

“Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.”– John Wayne

I’m thinking of turning my phone off on Sundays. I never expect bad news on Sunday; for me, it’s a day of peace and relaxation, of family and friends. Having a home-based business, I expect phone solicitors and campaign calls during the week, so I gird my loins with FCC regulations and prepare to spout the bad news in their direction. But on Sunday my guard is down, which makes the blow even tougher to absorb.

“Catherine has been badly hurt, and we’ve called Flight For Life.” (Sunday, January 23, 2000)

“Someone you trusted bullied your elderly mother out of her life savings; she is now destitute, infirm, ineligible for Medicaid, and has nowhere to go.” (Sunday, July 25, 2010)

My mouth goes dry and stays that way. My mind spins as I ask all the questions I can think of: Where is she? Where should I go? What should I do? Is she going to be okay? How could this happen?”

Shock overcomes me as I get off the phone, and I shake even as I spring into action. I feel like I’m going to throw up. I can’t stop saying, “Oh God help me, help me, help me God, please help me.”

Obviously, the death of my daughter was by far the most traumatic. It altered the fabric of my being down to the molecular level. After church, Catherine went snowmobiling with her youth group. She drove off the trail by mistake and into a drift. Gunning the engine for speed to escape, she got tangled in a barbed-wire fence buried under the snow. As she plowed forward, it stretched taut across the front of the sled, tighter still, until it snapped over the top and hit her in the face. The force broke her neck, shattered her skull, and destroyed her head below the nose. Thank God she never knew what hit her. She died about fifteen minutes later in the arms of her youth leader, drowning in her own blood on a sunny January afternoon. The day before my birthday, in fact.

For three or four days my mouth was so dry I just couldn’t bear it. Nothing helped. I had to make sure I always had a water bottle and some hard candy with me lest I puke my guts out everywhere I turned.

This past Sunday, the phone rang as I was getting dressed to go to church.

“Rachel, your mama told us not to call you, but things have gotten bad, so we decided to go against her wishes even though she’ll be mad at us.”

Your mama. That’s how they talk down south, in central Florida. If you’ve only been to the beach or the Mouse, you haven’t seen the real Sunshine State. However, if you’re out to lunch and the waitress says, “you wont sweet tae or unsweet tae with thay-at?” you’ve been to Florida. If you flick on your bedroom light and cockroaches the size of your thumb come “a flyin’ atchya,” you’ve been to Florida. That’s where my mama lives.

Last week I told you all (okay, y’all) about Crazy Town. I feel Florida’s oppressive heat and humidity already. Less than twenty-four hours after posting about hurricanes and child abuse, twenty-two hundred miles from the scene of the crime, my guts are back in my throat and I’m frantically searching for bottled water and hard candy. Oh God please help me, please help me.

This is the other kind of death.

We all have them. The little deaths. The realization that a relationship will never be reconciled. A betrayal. The loss of a marriage, or a job, or our health. A reversal of fortune. The death of a dream. Just as no one escapes the final exit, no one is exempt from the little deaths.

We all have ways of coping with our losses.

In Ecclesiastes, the fatalistic Teacher pretty much admonishes the reader to eat dirt and die.
As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain since he toils for the wind?
All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger.
(Ecclesiastes 5:16b-17 NIV)

As we’ve studied Ecclesiastes, we’ve seen the hopeless attitude of a man, even a privileged man, as he looks through the lens of a finite life. Sorrows, joys, privilege, and squalor- all looked the same to him, because he had no hope. He lived in a world that hadn’t seen Jesus.

As I have stated before, we do not live in a pre-Messiah world. We have a choice of eyewear. We can view our lives through the narrow lens of our little deaths, or we can don the bifocals of faith. Our eyes downcast, we still see our lives as they really are, acknowledging the difficulties and mourning our griefs. But the top lens on a pair of bifocals is for distance vision. We lift our eyes to heaven for the promise of the joy set before us. The apostle Paul wrote these words in his second letter to the Corinthians:

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 on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
(II Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV)

I’m looking forward to this Sunday. The first thing I did last week when the bad news came was to call my pastor. He prayed for me over the phone. Then he went to work and led the congregation in praying for me and my family in our time of need. All week I’ve been receiving phone calls and emails of encouragement. The saints are praying for me. Their intercession doesn’t bounce off the clouds; it storms the gates of heaven on our behalf. I trust and believe that God is working out these circumstances for our good and His glory. I know that my Redeemer lives.

Come back next week for “a time to plant.” I’ll let you know how this is working out.

May God bless and keep you.

Let’s Celebrate For a Change!

June has set down her suitcase and set up shop in the Rockies! Not since the sun rolled south last September have we enjoyed the warmth of the last couple of weeks. Up here, even the trees are smart enough not to bud out until June, lest a spring blizzard break their branches. Finally, the last of winter retreated up the valley and spring has boogied in from the south like a kid let loose in the arcade. Let the people rejoice!

I know my dog does. Max is an eleven-year-old German Shepherd mutt mix that we rescued from the shelter after Catherine died. He actually rescued us. We walk the neighborhood every day of every season. I pray as we walk- he rolls in whatever covers the ground at the moment. In this precious month of June, my conversations with God are prayers of celebration for the beauty of the mountains in spring. Max takes advantage of every shady spot we come across for a cool roll in the grass.

Riotous color has poured down from the crowns of crabapple trees and flowed into the flowerbeds of purple iris, blue flax, and yellow pansies. The aspens are green, the air smells of sage, and the sun hangs long in the western sky. All year long I wait for this month. All I can say is yahoo and woot! woot! Let’s live for this moment that is June!

This might seem like a lot of fuss over spring, especially for someone who knows that winter is optional. I grew up in South Florida, where the grass is green all the time and the only two thermostat readings are hot and hotter. I never even saw winter until I was twenty-one. Florida does provide stunningly beautiful weather most of the year. Why would I choose to live in a long winter/short summer zone, especially now that the novelty has worn off?

The short answer is seasons. The long answer is seasons.

God created within me a need for spiritual balance, and He uses the changing course of nature to rouse the hungers in my heart. Even summer’s whimsy eventually tires of the heat, welcoming the cooler, softer light of fall. The sweet, woodsmoke scent of October’s melancholy swings wide the gate for the cold, dark clouds of November to swirl in, sucking the leaves of autumn skyward. December snows always decorate the yard in time for the holidays. January marks new beginnings of both promise and sorrow- a clean calendar page, an inevitable birthday, the astounding gift of another sobriety celebration, then the solemn remembrance of my daughter’s death. All these ups and downs test my emotional fortitude; I weather the highs and lows by clinging to Jesus in prayer. He and I hunker down for the long winter of perseverance. Sometimes life seems cold, long, and dark. Only through faith and with God’s help can I believe the sun will roll north once again.

Our God is a God of miracles, and I can’t think of a better miracle than the breath of new life in June. I thank Him for the balance of warmth and cold; of hope and dismay; of faith and despair; of sorrow and joy; because the pain of these earthly contradictions compel me to seek His face. It is because Jesus loves me that He rouses the hungers of my heart. There is no better reason to celebrate, and no better time than now. To all my friends in the Northern Hemisphere, welcome to a time of rejoicing that the long winter is past. Welcome to June!

There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV)

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