Archive for Prayer

Rising to the Occasion and Going One Step Beyond

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”– Jesus Christ (John 15:12-13 NIV)

September 10, 2011

Ten years ago we were glued to our televisions as we watched the Twin Towers fall and the Pentagon burn. We recoiled in horror as we imagined the fight in the cockpit of United Flight 93 over Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Our heroes were the firefighters and first responders at The World Trade Center, the passengers and flight crews who put up a fight, and the selfless souls who gave up their lives so others might live. The day that rocked our world defined drama and destiny; a real-life reenactment of the battle between good and evil, where brave souls wearing the face of Jesus lay down their lives to save strangers. The fury of hate was foiled by the face of love.

I’ve been watching television coverage of this solemn anniversary, and to the families of the fallen, I extend my sincerest condolences and grateful thanks. In no way do I wish to minimize the sacrifices made or the losses suffered. But I ask that we remember that as children of God, we too are called into battle every day. Our enemy masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) just as the terrorist strives to blend in with his target. He “prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV) Like the terrorist, he uses fear and intimidation to accomplish his purposes, striking when we least expect him in ways we could hardly imagine. If we read our Bible we know the enemy is out there and he hates us. We are fools if we ignore the danger. How, then, should we live?

The Department of Homeland Security works on our behalf to protect us from the terrorist threat. We take off our shoes at the airport, remove the scissors from our carry-on bags and submit to X-rays just to enter our government buildings. Nobody likes it but we put on our big-boy pants and act like grownups. That’s the price we pay to keep from getting blown up. Likewise, God gave us weapons to use in the war against Satan. Refusing to acknowledge we’re at war or assuming someone else will fight the battle for us is lazy, childish, and not particularly smart. If we’re not willing to rise to the occasion and use the tools He gave us, we can’t blame God when the devil finds a foothold and shakes the ground beneath our feet.

Our arsenal comes complete and can be found, item by item, in Ephesians 6:10-18. The firefighters who climbed the stairs at The World Trade Center each carried 110 pounds of equipment as they sweated their way up floor by floor. All we have to do is fall to our knees every morning and put on the armor of God. So we suit up and show up for war, understanding the one thing the firefighters must also have known:

Sometimes we lose the battle.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13 NIV) Sometimes all that’s left is a burned battlefield and one lone soldier silhouetted against a ragged sky. That’s what Ground Zero looked like after the towers fell. For all their courage and all their efforts, the buildings fell and people died. But because of their courage, and because of their efforts, many people lived. The firefighters did not die in vain, nor did the passengers of Flight 93; neither are our efforts for naught. We may lose the battle, but God will not lose the war. He will use our suffering for our good and His glory. To this end, He calls us to live one step beyond our own self-protection.

In the last verse in our list of armor, Paul writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18 NIV) The firefighters carried a backbreaking load of equipment not only to protect themselves, but to save those in danger. Likewise, we are responsible not only to pray for ourselves and our own protection, but to pray God’s armor over our loved ones, our friends, and our leaders. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” -Jesus Christ (John 15:12-13 NIV) Laying down our lives can be as simple as five minutes of prayer every morning for those in the line of fire, and those already under attack. It’s time to put on our big-boy pants and stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. It was the signature of the 9/11 heroes; it should also be God’s signature, written on us.

The fury of hate can only be foiled by the face of love. Alone, we are sitting ducks for the enemy abroad as well as the enemy within. But we are not alone. Let us put on our armor and join forces with others in prayer. Let us, as Jesus commands, lay down our lives (at least five minutes a day) for our communities, our troops, and our leaders. Let us remember the heroes who gave their own lives, as well as our Hero, who gave His for ours. Let us remember 9/11, and take up our weapons in the battle of good versus evil. We have a job to do.

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

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

Knowing Which Mountain to Climb

*Knowing Which Mountain to Climb is the fifth 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

       And the wisdom to know the difference.

When I was twenty-something, then thirty-something, and finally sneaking into my forty-somethings, I thought I could climb every mountain my friends could. After all, nothing was physically wrong with me, and I could hike 5-6 miles at a stretch, maybe three or four times every summer.

Then, I naively accepted an invitation to hike from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado with a group of women in recovery. We took the ‘long route’- fourteen miles- because it was supposedly easier. The super-athletes in the group made it in eight hours, arriving about four in the afternoon. More trickled into town as the sun sank lower in the west. Finally, my desperate foursome wandered in long after dark, exhausted like we’d each given birth to triplets. Some people are born athletes and some aren’t, and that day God gave me the wisdom to know the difference.

Webster’s defines wisdom as “the knowledge of what is true or right, coupled with just judgment as to action.” * I wish that I could say that now, in my fifty-somethings, I can easily discern the difference between the things I can change and those I cannot. But truth be told, my perceptions of events, circumstances, and people naturally filter through my own self-interests. It’s always me first. How does this affect me? What should I do about this? That’s why the Serenity Prayer is, for me, an indispensable tool in seeking peace of mind and heart. I can ask God for help.

The New International Version of the Bible mentions wisdom over two hundred times, but this verse from James is my all-time favorite:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. -James 1:5-8

Every time I’ve asked, I’ve received. Sometimes I have to wait a while, and sometimes I don’t like what I hear. But eventually an answer will waft my way, suggesting a solution that works for everyone’s good and God’s glory: that’s how I know it’s from Him. As far as obtaining the power to carry it out- that’s a blog post for another day.

All the courage in the world can’t change the fact that I’m not a born athlete. Last week a friend dropped by with her twenty-something daughter and casually mentioned their plans to summit a 14’er this weekend. That means a mountain over fourteen thousand feet high. Even trees can’t breathe up there. I expressed my heartfelt admiration and wished them well, knowing my days above timberline are over. I still hike, but now I’m very selective about which mountains I climb. Thank God for the wisdom to know the difference!

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

Please visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com for more information on recovery and the awesome love of God.

*Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary ©1996 by Random House Value Publishing, Inc.

The Search For Serenity

*The Search for Serenity is the second installment in The Serenity Prayer Series.

“God, grant me the serenity…”

When my knees were younger, I played tennis. Not well, or often, but I enjoyed running around the court and whacking the ball over the net. Once, in the midst of a rally, a bee stung me on the ankle. Hours later, an allergy I didn’t know I had launched an all-out assault of hives, accompanied by a relentless itch deep within each joint of my body. The hives were unnerving but the itching almost drove me to the edge. Because I was young and stupid, it didn’t occur to me to go to the doctor. The symptoms came and went for a week, leaving me miserable in my own skin. Had I known Benadryl would ease my suffering, I’d have been popping those little pink pills faster than Serena Williams can serve. I was too dumb to seek relief from my pain.

The naivete I displayed in ignoring a systemic allergic reaction was unfortunately similar to how clueless I was in dealing with emotional pain. As the oldest child in a family beset by mental illness, the others bounced off me like a trampoline. My bipolar father had survived Nazi captivity but eventually descended into madness, venting his fury on my brothers and me. My mother worked constantly. She kept us fed, clothed, and housed while I juggled housework, childcare, and school. The responsibilities were staggering but the violence pushed me to the edge. I was miserable in my own skin until the day I found marijuana. I was fifteen. For the first time, my soul stopped screaming. Finally, I had found relief from my pain.

Serenity: the opposite of emotional pain; the state of being calm, peaceful, tranquil. We seek it, pursue it, crave it. Some of us drink or drug to find it; some run or exercise for the high. In the sweet buy-and-buy we shop for clothes we don’t need and cars we can’t afford. Most of these pursuits are not sinful in and of themselves, but they are no substitute for the peace of God. But why invest time and effort in getting to know the Almighty when we can feel better (faster) with a quick trip to the liquor store, the gym, or the mall?

Because: Every earthly pursuit exacts a price. Every addict knows the depression of coming down; every alcoholic faces the morning after. Clothes fade, cars depreciate, and the bills stack up at the end of the month. While physical endeavors are good for the body and soul, they can’t take the place of relationship with God; even the strongest knees give out eventually. We are left squirming in our pain with nowhere to go, unless we know we can go to the Lord.

I drank and drugged because substance abuse eased the pain, at least until I sobered up. Those habits led to alcoholism and addiction, the bottomless pit of despair. Sitting in church I pleaded with God to miraculously deliver me. Instead, He introduced me to people who taught me this prayer as part of how to live in the light. From Day One of recovery, God has continually answered my pleas for serenity. I have learned to live comfortably in my own skin, in spite of what happened before, in light of what I’ve done since, and in anticipation of whatever would come in the future. Never once has the Lord denied me serenity when I further surrendered to these terms:

To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.

When my heart was younger, it broke every time my father beat us, especially the vicious attacks on my brother Matthew (may God rest his soul). It broke every time I tried to quit drinking, only to pick up again. In a thousand failures from my life in addiction to the simpler failures of life in sobriety, I’ve found only one answer that brings healing to my heart and serenity to my soul: the endless, timeless love of God through forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Thank you, Lord. To God be the glory forever and ever, Amen!

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

For more information on addiction recovery through faith in God, 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

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

The Roar of the Sea and the Whisper of God

Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea-
The Lord on high is mighty.

(Psalm 93:4 NIV)

The roar woke me. I opened my eyes to the silvery shadows of filtered moonlight and the thunder of surf crashing on the rocks below and wondered: is this what God sounds like?

As much as I hate being awake at four in the morning, the deafening roar of the sea was a welcome change from my four AM musings of late. The weapons in my arsenal against sleeplessness were proving no match for the pain of a recent personal debacle. Normally prayer, Scripture, and taking thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ could deliver me from insomnia. Normally owning my part, making amends, and forgiving those who wrong me would bring peace to my soul. But recent events were not normal, and God alone knew the way He would restore me to sanity. He just wasn’t telling me yet.

Well, what better time to listen? Out my window, boats anchored in Kailua Harbor bobbed in the moonlight. Salt air wafted through the window. Kevin was dead asleep, and it was just me and God awake in the quiet of the night.

“Lord, I don’t know how to get past this. What do You want me to do?”

“Just listen.”

“I’m listening. I’m listening! But all I hear is the roar. What do You want me to do?

“I want you to listen until you hear the quiet.”

Normally I would have opened my Bible and looked for something a little more concrete. But as I mentioned in an earlier post, I had left it at home. So I lay back against crisp white sheets in a very comfy bed, reveled in the color of moonlight, and listened to the roar of the waves breaking below my window. I didn’t even know I’d fallen asleep until the sun woke me in the morning.

What does God sound like, anyway? The story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 always comes to mind. In my post of May 2 (Battered Baggage and a Pacific Breeze) I quoted Elijah from 1 Kings 19:4: he was terrified, running for his life, and exhausted. The Lord ministered to him through angels who brought him food, water, and the opportunity for rest. Even as he went on his way, he knew he needed more than provision, more than even the ministrations of angels. At God’s prompting, Elijah poured out his lament (1 Kings 19:9-10). I love what happened next:

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

(1 Kings 19:11-13 NIV)

Elijah recognized God’s voice in the sound of a gentle whisper: literally, “the sound of a gentle stillness.”

Can you imagine huddling at the mouth of a cave as the forces of nature preceded the presence of God? A wind that can tear mountains apart and shatter rocks would have my heart punching through the wall of my chest. Riding out an earthquake while the rocks crash down around me? Really? I’d be wetting my pants as I hightailed it down the hill. But what Elijah understood, and what I frequently misunderstand, is this: This disaster itself is not the voice of God.

Just like me, Elijah made his share of mistakes. But God never lost sight of him, never gave up on him, and never stopped loving him. Even though he suffered through persecution, disappointment, exhaustion, and terror, Elijah stood firm and listened. He knew God’s voice when he heard it. The “sound of a gentle stillness” then told him where to go, what to do, and even how God Himself would work in the situation. Waiting through the roar worked for Elijah. I could only hope it would work for me, too.

©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

The Indian Tire World

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…and…a time to laugh.”- The Teacher (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 NAS)

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”- Victor Borge

The spine of the Rocky Mountains lies between our home on Colorado’s western slope and our son’s apartment in Denver. Thanks to a decided absence of people in this part of the state, Kevin and I can zoom the 175 miles in three hours or less. Though we pass a lot of ski resorts, only one particular exit commands my attention- The Silverthorne Outlet Shops, an oasis of commerce in the wilderness.

My husband is usually amenable to detours, but stopping to spend money on anything but food waves a red flag in the face of his Dutch DNA. Living out here in the land of limited shopping is fine with him. I, on the other hand, can spend several hours comparing styles, fabrics, and fits just to find two new pair of jeans. As we flew past the Silverthorne exit on our last trip to Denver, I casually observed, “On our way back, I’d like to stop here and do some shopping. They have my favorite store in the entire world.”

Keeping his eyes on the road, he cocked his head in my direction, pointing his ear at me for clarification. “The Indian Tire World? What’s that?”

I stared at him in befuddlement before we both cracked up. We just couldn’t stop laughing. After almost twenty-eight years of marriage, one of us is going slightly deaf. One of us is going gray. As for me, I categorically deny any loss of my faculties; as for my hair, only my colorist (coincidentally my husband) knows for sure. We are changing in ways we never thought we would live long enough to see. But our connection in laughter is stronger than ever. The ability to laugh together in this season of our lives is the fruit we enjoy after the painful pruning of our selfish souls.

We will celebrate our anniversary next week. The aspen-gold of the changing leaves is beginning to look as it did the day of our wedding. The sky is deepening to that dazzling blue of autumn, and a familiar chill is settling over the night. While scores of seasons have risen and fallen with comforting familiarity, the metamorphosis of our hearts has been anything but a natural progression. On the contrary, the Lord’s wedding gift to us was not each other. It was the gift of Himself. To this day, neither of us has been able to bestow on the other the blessings we have sought for ourselves until we learned how to receive them from God and pass them along.

We’ve been through a lot in twenty-eight years. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes writes of the times that come to us all. Everyone experiences life’s ups and downs, but married couples must weather (or celebrate) them with the other’s best interest at heart. The wedding vows were barely out of our mouths before real life kicked in and the self-centered desires of our hearts met in battle. We were, and are, fallen human beings. Only by the grace of God have we been able to grow in faith and love for one another. But in all honesty, it was Kevin who knew God better. It was he who held on tighter, and showed me how to love a little less selfishly, one day at a time.

We have seen each other at our best and at our worst. We’ve been broke and flush and devastated and jubilant and selfish and selfless and hungry and thirsty and cold and satisfied and drunk and sober and home and abroad and employed and jobless and elated and dejected and sick and healthy and broken and mended. We’ve snorkeled and skied and hiked and been tossed out of the Vatican’s restroom. (I can explain.) We’ve sobbed and celebrated and worried and trusted and betrayed and renewed and broken and healed. We’ve been young, and now not so young. But oh! the places we’ve been, the things we have done, the lessons we’ve learned, the joy we have found! It’s been well worth the trip. We are still together because we never gave up on each other and never stopped praying. And Jesus never gave up on us.

Today, we’re the Mom and Pop in our own small business, literally back-to-back in an 8′ x 10′ office most of seven days a week. Whether this week’s ink is black or red, we are still learning to pray hard, trust God, give faithfully, and forgive freely. We look forward to Heaven because our daughter waits for us beside Jesus, but we also enjoy watching our son make his way in the world. Together, we treasure the time we left. Yes, we still crank at one another upon occasion, but thankfully we don’t hear everything anymore, so most of the time we can pretend we missed it.

Kevin, you are the Spock to my Kirk and the Chakotay to my Janeway. You are my calm in the storm and the logic to my lunacy. Thanks for getting off the highway at Silverthorne so I can spend all morning buying two pair of jeans. I promise to keep laughing at your jokes. Thanks for loving me, forgiving me, and never leaving me behind. I love you, Dear. Happy Anniversary!

“After God created the world, He made man and woman. Then, to keep the whole thing from collapsing, He invented humor.”– Guillermo Mordillo

Copyright 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.

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