Archive for Sobriety

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 Exclamation Point of Surrender

*The Exclamation Point of Surrender is the first in The Serenity Prayer Series.

Just
     “God”

Not reverently, like

     “Almighty God”
     “Most High”
     “Creator of Heaven and Earth”
     “I AM WHO I AM”

Not endearingly, like

     “Dear God”
     “My Father”
     “Jesus, My Savior”
     “Oh Lord”

Not claiming a single promise, or fawning in search of favor

     “God, who relents from sending calamity”
     “God, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”
     “O compassionate and gracious God.”

Just one word. Without the “Dear” or the “O,” or any address whatsoever. The speaker prays with urgency. The first word of the Serenity Prayer screams immediacy, with no time for title; no need to clarify the address of the recipient or the qualifications of the sender. No “in reference to,” flowery prose, or unnecessary details. God’s child needs help, and she needs it now. So the cry goes up from the church basement or the doctor’s office or from detox in a crummy part of town. Whether this daughter of the King can’t stop drinking, or using, or finds herself in circumstances beyond her ability to endure, this much is certain: she’s desperate and knows God can help her.

All my life I believed in the existence of a Supreme Being, but I began to learn about the God of the Bible when I was a young mother many years ago. My mentor pretty much forced me to go to a Bible Study with other young moms, church ladies-in-waiting with babies in tow. I prayed with all the sincerity I could muster, but my petitions consisted mostly of “Oh God, oh God, I’m so sorry. I won’t drink again tonight, I swear.” And I meant every word of it, until about 5:00 PM. When my hands started shaking I’d reach for the brandy, just to take the edge off while I was cooking dinner. Next thing I knew it was morning and I was sorry, so sorry, I won’t do it again, I promise. This included Tuesdays, when I’d pack Catherine up and totter across town to Bible Study.

Now there was this one church lady who was quite open about being a recovering alcoholic. Secretly I watched her live and laugh and love her kids, just like the rest of us. Secretly I was in awe of her. How could she go two days without alcohol, much less the two years I spent observing her? But on a sub-zero Sunday, in an early morning service, God responded to all my apologies with a Voice that thundered through my soul. I went home, poured my brandy down the drain, and called the lady who could laugh and love and make dinner without drinking. She took me to my first AA meeting, and I heard the Serenity Prayer. I’ve loved it ever since.

Far from being a too-familiar, almost insubordinate way of addressing the Almighty, I believe that the opening word of the Serenity Prayer is the exclamation point of surrender. Our urgency admits we need help, and that help can come from Almighty God alone. In the weeks to come I’ll be sharing my experience, strength, and hope through the framework of this famous piece. If you receive this post by email, you can click on the link to visit my blog home. There you will find a copy of the prayer, as well as a very brief history. To God as He is revealed in the face of Jesus Christ- the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, be the glory; for now and evermore. Amen!

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

For more information on recovery and Jesus, too, visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com

 

Looking Forward to Heaven With the Eyes of My Heart

Sunday, January 23 marks the anniversary of my daughter Catherine’s death. At the age of fourteen she died in a snowmobile accident on a sunny Sunday afternoon, enjoying an outing with her friends from church.

In the eleven years since her passing, I’ve made some important choices, but one stands out above the rest. I chose to seek God in the midst of the tragedy.

In the years and the months, the weeks and the days leading up to the accident, we as a family lived a life of faith as best we knew how. All four of us had invited Jesus Christ into our hearts as Lord and Savior, and accepted salvation through His death on the cross. We had given Him free reign in our lives (again, as best we knew how) and prayed for each other in faith every day.

You can imagine our shock and rage at this turn of events. As far as we could tell, our prayers for Catherine’s safety had fallen on deaf ears. The Lord we thought we knew had been replaced by an impersonal, uncaring God who allowed our daughter to die horribly before she really had a chance to live. Our pain defied description, underscored by a sense of betrayal by the Jesus we had taught our children to love.

But the three of us who remained made one major decision, and it was that decision that saved us. We went to the Bible, the source of our answers before the disaster, and sought to understand a God who would allow such a heartache. We, who had endeavored to follow Him wholeheartedly, hurled the same questions as Job, and prayed the same laments as King David (both grieving parents themselves.) Finally, we followed Christ to the cross, only to hear the magnificent promise given to the thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And finally, as far as we could go in the Word of God, we followed them to Heaven, reading everything the Bible had to say about the home where Catherine waits for us. Though we cannot understand the ways of God (Isaiah 55: 8-9) He gave us enough to cling to for the days we still have here on Earth.

Today, I look forward to Heaven with the eyes of my heart. Catherine- we miss you, honey. To everyone else: if I have only one message I can share with you, it is this: Jesus is always enough. Between His saving grace and the power of His Word, He gives His followers strength for today and hope for tomorrow. If He can keep this addict clean, this alcoholic sober, and this grieving mom from losing her mind, He is enough for anyone and everyone. To God be the glory, Amen!

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am. You know the way to the place I am going.” – Jesus Christ, on the night He was betrayed (John 14:1-4 NIV)

Do you know the way? If you would like to know more about friendship with Jesus, visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com

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

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

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)


God’s Plans, My Plans, and Quiet Little Miracles

Greetings! Thank God that His mercies are new every morning.

For the last two weeks I’ve been whining about the change in my plans. I was hoping to keep working for the family business part-time and write part-time. Due to the recession, I get to keep one job (family business), look for a full-time bookkeeping job, putting my writing on the back burner. I won’t deny it- it makes me sad.

However, notice I said ‘my plans’, not ‘God’s plans.’

In my post ‘Free Fall’, I spoke of how my trust in God has changed in the ten years since my daughter died. I don’t know how God works in the lives of people who don’t know Him or don’t hand over control of their situations to Him. But I do know this one thing:

When I do my best to hand over control of my life to God on a day-to-day basis, He will orchestrate my circumstances for my good and His glory.

This does not mean I will get everything I want. On the contrary- God (who loves me dearly) is far more concerned with growing me into the person He knows I can be than He is in giving me what I think I want. This seems like bad news. However, He knows better than I do what I need and what I want. I only figure it out after the fact.

Like a great parent, He can see far beyond my vision. He has plans for me I can’t even begin to imagine. Every once a in while, He gives me a glimpse of His plan, and the tiniest little nod of encouragement.

Today’s Upper Room devotional is a piece I wrote about getting sober. This morning has been amazing. I’ve gotten emails from all over the US and a phone call from a lady in New Jersey. The most poignant message was from a woman in South Carolina, newly sober, who didn’t think she could get through the day. How amazing God is! To give me the opportunity to write her and tell her that our God is big enough to fight her battles if she will only stand in His shadow, pray hard, and cling to His Word. I should know- I practice doing this almost every day.

Whether I get to keep writing or plug numbers into Quick Books, it is my privilege to do it all for the glory of God.

Amen? Amen!

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