Archive for Praise

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

 

Special Delivery and Divine Destiny

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast.
    –
Psalm 139:9-10 NIV

It’s big; it’s heavy; it’s falling apart: three of the four reasons I left my Bible behind when I went on vacation.

The moments I spend reading my Bible are woven into the fabric of my morning. Even this first day out on our trip I missed it, more than I thought I would. I considered using the Bible software on my laptop, but just the image evoked a cold, metallic feeling in my chest. I am accustomed to a cup of coffee in one hand and my heavy, clunky Bible in the other; its pages worn soft by wear, its binding broken by the contours of my lap.

So I listened to the waves wash ashore, inhaled the salty breeze, closed my eyes, and quieted my heart for prayer. Considering I had a cup of freshly-brewed Kona coffee in my hand and a day at the shore ahead of me, I should have been feeling pretty good. Thank the Lord for the day, ask for protection, please remember Jesse, blah blah blah.

Instead I felt lost. So I asked Him to send help.

It’s not that God gives me specific direction from the Word at the beginning of each day. It’s just that He’s there. I meet Him every morning, and I have for years. This morning I felt like I’d been stood up; oh wait- it was my idea to be left alone. Instead, I was left bereft. And I knew why I had done it.

It had nothing to do with the size, weight, or the condition of my Bible. I had lugged it, or one of its predecessors, on all my previous travels. Instead, while I was suffering from a recent personal blow, a quiet voice whispered that God was fed up with me at the moment. And I believed it. And then I figured, why lug this big heavy message halfway across the Pacific when God didn’t want to talk to me anyway?

Sigh. Well, here we are in paradise, Kevin said, let’s walk into town before it gets too hot. So we strolled down the main drag into Kailua. High-end vendors hawked expensive trinkets to white-legged tourists while Bubba Gump sang his siren song of shrimp. The bay shone on our left, the shops bustled on our right, and coconut trees swayed in the breeze overhead. I could hardly believe the blessing of being back in Hawaii; still, it didn’t take us long to get sick of the noise downtown. Sauntering back to our condo, we wriggled our sweaty bodies into swimsuits and took a cool dip in the pool. No sooner had I plopped my dripping self into a deck chair than a quiet voice whispered, “Go check out their lending library.”

The voice could have been mine; could have been God’s; I’m a sucker for books anywhere, anytime. As I perused the jumbled assortment left by travelers before me, I found an older, hardback book; no jacket, but the author’s familiar name was stamped on the binding: Lucado. Max Lucado? Here? A Christian book among the usual trashy novels is a rare find indeed. Even more surprising, I had never read it. Finally, the subject matter grabbed my attention like police lights in my rear-view mirror.

It was a study of the 23rd Psalm. I have spent months in that passage. Millions of readers over the centuries have claimed for themselves this sacred promise, in times of joy and times of sorrow: “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

Now I was not only dripping but dumbstruck as the Truth dispelled the lie. God was not “fed up” with me. God wanted to feed me. I may have heard the enemy’s voice and left my Bible behind, but the Jesus who loves me laughed in his face and sent His Word in answer to my prayer. And every morning for the rest of my trip, I sipped Kona coffee and studied with Max before packing the cooler and heading for the beach.

Only God knows whose hands had held these yellowed pages; whose heart had been reassured, whose soul had been saved through this message before it reached me. When my time on Kona drew to a close I left the book behind, praying for the next weary traveler who’d be nourished by the words of David and reminded of the love of God. One simple volume in a jumbled assortment was singled out and delivered to me by divine destiny; all because I asked, and Jesus loves me. Oh, that we all could know that He loves us that much.

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

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



Watching For Lights In The Sky

Keep watch out your window; there might be a light show tonight.

A few days ago our Sun released a giant solar flare. While Earth is not directly in the path of this particular outburst, the Swedish have seen the Northern Lights this week, and are expecting more tonight. You’ve seen the pictures: enormous ribbons of blue and green undulating against the midnight sky. All my life I’ve yearned to see the real thing, but I live too far south of the Arctic Circle. Just once I’d love to open my curtains at night to see swirls of color blown by the solar winds.

Even more than the Aurora Borealis, I’ve yearned for a glimpse of Heaven; I yearn for the road home. To throw open my window and take to the skies, dancing along a ribbon of light and into the arms of my Savior. Instead, the black night of winter lies silent beyond my curtains. She coldly turns her back on me, pulling even the glow from the distant stars into the shadow of her cloak lest the starshine light my path.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
(Isaiah 9:2 NIV)

To us, the birth of Christ is history; to believers, this verse is as familiar as a well-worn prayer. But with all the promises of Heaven, we still live in the land of the shadow of death, and sometimes we grow weary of the dark. This Christmas I seek a fresh insight from an old story, to shine light upon my path.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel of the Lord said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
     This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in a manger.

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:8-20 NIV)

I love the shepherds. They were just regular guys- not special, not wealthy, though probably a little smellier than most. Just as we would be, they were no doubt scared witless when the sky lit up like a nuclear explosion. But as soon as the angels went home, they hustled off to Bethlehem to see the Christ child, spread the word to everyone who would listen, and finally went back to their fields, glorifying and praising God. Their day-to-day lives had not changed; they still worked outdoors in the cold and the heat and the sun. The sheep were still stupid and stinky and constantly wandering off. Wild animals still stalked their charges, and their night sky probably never lit up again. But God spoke to them and they knew it, and the light from that one night lit up the countryside, and all who heard it were amazed.

Here in the twenty-first century, this past year has brought heartache to many. Even our tiny group of believers has walked through the darkness of job loss, poor health, financial devastation, and more. These faithful have not given up, but they are tired and the road ahead looks to wind through shadows of sorrow and fear. In this season of miracles, let us sit with the shepherds on a faraway hill. Let us rejoice with them in worshiping the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness.” Let us spread the word to all who will listen, then go back to our lives glorifying and praising God. Sure, we’ll still have heartache in this land of the shadow of death. But God spoke to us through His Word and we know it. May the light from each believer spread through the countryside, and may all who hear it be amazed.

As for me, it’s not yet time to go home, so I’ll keep my eyes on the skies. Who knows? There might be a light show tonight.

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

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

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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