Archive for Recovery

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/

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

One Ordinary Day at a Time

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.”- Mary Jean Irion

It was crazy cold that Sunday, twenty-two years ago this weekend in Aspen, Colorado. Well below zero before the sun came up, I snuck into our church’s early service, my last drink not twelve hours past. In the course of an hour on this ordinary day, God spoke to me through a passage (or rather, He thundered) assuring me He would help me get sober today, but to make no mistake: Today was the day.

Every ordinary day He’d been whispering a warning, and every ordinary morning I had wallowed in defeat. “Oh God, Oh God, I’m so sorry. I won’t drink again tonight, I promise. Please forgive me.” But the addiction was as relentless as the pain in my soul, and every late afternoon the demon demanded her due. She’d smile as I poured my first tumbler of brandy, and I caved in to the warmth that flowed through my veins.

“Don’t you feel better now?” she’d purr with each glass. And each refill welcomed the haze that sheltered my shame until the sun rose again. When I’d open my eyes my heart would break, and she’d throw back her head and laugh. Lest I lean toward the hope of a new day each dawn, she’d grab me by the bottle and dance me down the hall, to late afternoon, to the time of the dark. This was the way of my life, one ordinary day at a time.

Until this one Sunday morning. Having whispered His warnings for months up ’til now, the time of quiet prodding had passed. This morning’s thunder through the words of Isaiah left me terrified in the presence of a God I’d barely met. New to the faith game, my best intentions led me to substitute alcohol for all my other illicit substances. The seemingly perfect answer was legal, socially acceptable, and could hold the sickness of my soul at bay. Attending church on Sunday I felt I could pass for “normal”: a young wife and mother, just trying to fit in. No one need know about my afternoon retreats into the realm of the numb, in the privacy of my own home.

But sickness of the soul has a way of escaping, and she came out of hiding at the least opportune times. Refusing to remain within the boundaries I’d set for her, she’d also invite that blackberry brandy that kicked like a mule. “Come join us!” she’d say. “Take the afternoon off! You know you want to.”

So, the hazy days passed, first weeks and then months. In the fall of 1988 I surrendered the hope of a life without alcohol. I couldn’t bear the thought of living in my own skin without anesthesia, and despite my best efforts, I was unable to leave the bottle alone. She laughed as I struggled, the willing prisoner who didn’t even blame the demon; she only blamed herself.

The demon was uncharacteristically quiet this cold Sunday morning: January 15, 1989. I drove from the church to a park near my home. With the temperature still well below zero I prayed in the car.

“Okay, Lord, PLEASE help me. I can’t do this alone, and we both know it. I can’t do it at all. You’ll have to do this. God, please. Help me.”

Once more I opened my Bible to the promise He gave me; once given to the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah:

But now, this is what the LORD says- he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name, and you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’

(Isaiah 43:1-3 NIV)

And on this bitter cold morning, on an ordinary day, the demon screamed, “foul!” as the Lord took my hand. She fled in a fury as we picked up the phone, calling a friend who would take me for help. The first lesson I learned was the gift of one day. One day at a time, I learned to live without drinking. One day at a time, He helped me recover. I began to realize that ordinary days are extraordinary days when the God of the Universe is the Lord of my life. For twenty-two years now of “one day at a time,” He has walked me through waters that have not passed me over. He’s walked me through rivers that have not swept me away. The fires of pain haven’t burned me forever, for He is the LORD, the God of each day.

On this, one of thousands of extraordinary days, I thank the Lord God Almighty, His Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, my husband Kevin, both of my kids, my friends and supporters for the gift of my life and sobriety. To God be the glory. Amen!

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

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)

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