Archive for New Life

Thanks for the Pardon

They’ve probably arrived in Washington by now, sequestered from the media in a hush-hush location. Born and raised to be the rock stars of their generation, every detail of their lives has come together for this moment. Even their names have been kept secret. These two made the cut from the cream of the crop, but only one will carry on the proud tradition. Only one will strut into the Rose Garden. Only one will come face-to-face with the President.

The other serves as an alternate in case of disaster most fowl. Just for riding along and waiting in the wings (sorry!) he enjoys an all-expense-paid trip to DC. Oh, and his life is spared. He, too, is pardoned. While millions of their feathered friends make the ultimate sacrifice, these two birds grew fat enough and preened well enough to receive this year’s presidential pardon. Nice work if you can get it. A pardon is a gift beyond measure.

Kind indulgence or forgiveness of a serious offense? Both fall under the definition of pardon. Of course, the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey Celebration, a White House event since 1947, is little more than an American anecdote. Last year President Obama joked that this tradition is “one of the most important duties I carry out as President.” We Americans love to root for the underdog, until it’s time to eat him. Pardon schmardon, pass the drumsticks, please.

Compared to the God of the Universe, we’re probably not much smarter than turkeys; however, He made us in His own image. He gave us the ability to understand our need for a reprieve from the selfishness we are born with. Unlike one or two special birds, chosen from a flock and the rest be damned, each of us is loved by God with a passion that flows through His very heart. In the apostle Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he says “This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4 NIV) The truth is that our pardon is no kind indulgence, no American anecdote, no warm, fuzzy feeling dressed up for the holidays. Our pardon is forgiveness for all our offenses; a ransom for the redemption of our souls through the blood of Jesus Christ. It just doesn’t get any better than this.

Last year’s turkey duo, Apple and Cider, are living out their retirement at the historically preserved Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, former home of George Washington. This year’s winners will join them in gobbling around the Virginia countryside. Prior birds presided as Grand Marshals of the Disneyland Thanksgiving Parade. Again, nice work if you can get it. But we who have accepted the pardon granted by God Himself look forward to our everlasting home, safe in the arms of the One who loves us most. No special privilege required; just believe, ask, and receive. Nice work, done on our behalf. Indeed.

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

For more information on the love of Jesus, please visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com

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

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

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)

And Then He Said Goodbye

“Snatching the eternal out of the desperately fleeting is the great magic trick of human existence.” -Tennessee Williams in The New York Times.

He’s packing his truck again, but this year is different. Rather than living on campus, he and a buddy are renting an apartment for their junior year. All summer he’s been rescuing furniture the neighbors naively left on the curb as garbage, lovingly restoring an old desk and converting a wooden crate into a coffee table. The opportunity to turn trash into treasure appeals to the inborn thriftiness from his father’s side of the family.

I’d like to think that from my side, the crazy side, he hasn’t been saddled with anything, but his curly hair is a dead giveaway. I can only hope my legacy to him is an honesty that keeps him true to himself and mindful of Jesus every moment of every day.

He’s actually been leaving for years; on missions to Europe and Africa and Central America, to school and to life and away from us. This is how it should be. It’s the natural order of things. And yet…and yet. Every time he drives away, it breaks my heart.

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…a time to uproot what is planted.”The Teacher (Ecclesiastes 3:1,2 NAS)

Ten years ago his sister left us by accident, in an instant; perhaps saying a silent goodbye in her last fifteen minutes between heaven and earth. Her brother comes and goes with purpose, increasingly more going than coming. They were, and still are, my treasures; by far the greatest gifts God lent me, with the operative word being ‘lent.’

I hate that. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the gifts, the wonder and miracle of raising my children. But I hate the goodbye, or at least the ‘goodbye for now.’ I want the happily ever after. Someday I will get it. But for now, I must live in my fifteen minutes or months or years between heaven and earth; and in the time ahead I will lose more than my children. Already my youth and some of my teeth have hit the road, with more than a few of my marbles rolling merrily along behind them.

So how do I live between here and there? How can I fill the hole where this particular plant was rudely uprooted? This void is a sad, lonely, hollow spot; dark and misshapen, obviously missing its purpose and host. Nothing I own or hope to achieve can replace his presence. The tears dripping from my chin trickle down the sides and pool at the bottom, but even they are absorbed by the dirt and fade from view. As I wallow in the mud at the depths of the pit, I cry out to the Lord: “How do I survive this?”

And He whispers: “Remember.”

“Remember you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.” (Deuteronomy 15:15 NIV)

I remember how the Lord called me out of addiction and gave me the strength to stay clean and sober, for thousands of ‘one day at a times.”

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.” (Deuteronomy 8:2 NIV)

I remember how the Lord helped me recover from the hurts of my past and gives me the grace and strength to live in peace and freedom today.

“Remember the wonders He has done, His miracles, the judgments He pronounced.” (1 Chronicles 16:12 NIV)

I remember countless prayers answered with a ‘yes,’ saving my marriage and providing for our every need.

“Remember to extol His work, which men have praised in song.” (Job 36:24 NIV)

I reflect on the character of my husband, my daughter, and my son. I am grateful beyond measure that they extended the love of Jesus to a hurting world, and I’m thankful for these precious souls He lent me for a time.

“On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night. Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings.” (Psalm 63:6-7 NIV)

At the very worst time, when Catherine died, the Lord sent provision through His people, promise through His Word, and comfort through His Holy Spirit.

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him” (Lamentations 3:22-24 NIV)

In our bedroom we keep a small cabinet with the treasures Catherine held dear. Alongside her baseball caps, Miami Dolphins jersey, and her music box are her Bible (dog-eared and underlined), letters sent to us by people whose lives she touched and with whom she shared her faith; and her poetry, hinting that she knew her time here would be short.

The cabinet doesn’t exactly fit the hole she left behind, so I pour in hope around the edges: the promise Jesus gave me in John 14:1-4 that got me through the early years; the gift of twenty-five souls who gave their lives to Christ at her memorial service; the kindnesses she shared that spread out like ripples on a pond.

I still miss her, sometimes so much that I cry even today. But somehow I’ve survived the last ten years, and I’ve come to know Jesus better as a result. So what will fill the hole my son leaves behind?

The Lord says, “My compassions are new every morning. Take one day at a time and trust Me. Remember.”

So he packs his reclaimed furniture into the ancient Ford Bronco, this curly-headed boy/man I love with all my heart. I can’t yet imagine how God will fill the hole, but I trust He will and I cling to Him with all my strength. It’s worked every day so far.

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” (Psalm 27:13-14 NIV)


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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