Free for the Asking

Cabbage Butterfly by Sherri Woodbridge

I recently attended a conference and heard a pastor speak about grace. The kind of grace I have rarely heard spoken of before. Maybe I haven’t been listening. Or, maybe I wasn’t ready. But, this grace was a grace that saves – without conditions, without rules, without stipulations.

Many of us have grown up with rules. Rules that were followed by consequences that we often allowed to determine our worth, should we choose to follow them as instructed. Many of us have grown up never having experienced what grace really means.

Charlie Bing, the pastor that spoke at the conference I attended, said it like this: “Grace is free. It was given as a gift to those that believe in the work of Jesus Christ. That was it. It wasn’t promised to those who truly believed or really believed with all their heart or to those who repented and then believed. It was just given—plain and simple, free and clear—to those who believed. God didn’t say that we had to get cleaned up, quit our dirty habits and then He would accept us. He said, ‘Come to me.’ Yes, it was that plain and, that simple.”

So simple, Charlie said, that it is usually not an easy thing to just accept. And, he’s right.

I know from experience that it’s not easy. By our very nature we feel that if we receive something, we have to earn it or pay for it or, in many circumstances, owe something back. After all, isn’t one of the most popular sayings of all times, “Nothing is free”? We’ve all heard it and we’ve probably all said it. But God said, “Believe” and that was it. Just believe. Believe and there’s a wonderful gift awaiting the soul that seeks… salvation! It’s that plain and it’s that simple.

I found myself sitting there all weekend saying to myself with every statement of this new-found grace, “That’s too easy.”

I have always thought I had to push harder, serve more, stay later, do more, do it all. From childhood on, for whatever reason, I felt I earned my worth by what I did, how much I could do and how well I did it. This determined who I was. Grace didn’t enter into the picture very often, if ever.

But now I know better and one of my favorite verses has become, ‘You were saved by grace through faith and not by works…”

I have been saved by grace and, you have been saved by grace! We didn’t have to do anything to earn it. We don’t have to do anything to keep it. It was offered for free and free of charge, it is ours to keep. We owe nothing.

“Come to me,” Jesus says. “Come to me and I will give you rest.” Rest from the work, the rules, the regulations, the self-imposed laws and the legalities we pile on our shoulders. Simply…

Come.

It is in the coming that we find grace and it is in the receiving that we are set free. What grace!

A Road Trip Game

Chrismas in Fall by sherriwoodbridge.com

On the way down to visit my in-laws, we passed several items of magnificence along the way. Redwood trees, rivers, mountains and more. At some point on our journey, I was wondering if I could come up with a verse for works of God I spotted along the way. This is what I came up with…

The poplar’s tree leaves were joyfully dancing in the wind reminded me of trees clapping their hands…
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12

A flock of sparrows flew by over dry grass alongside the road…
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:26

Rocks sitting as statues along the roadside…
they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 1Corinthians 10:4

Cattle, grazing on the hillside…
for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. Psalm 50:10

Signs along the way…
There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Luke 21:25

An eagle was soaring above us as we crossed the border between Oregon and California…
those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar onwings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

The sun beat down in Redding at a low 96 degrees…
I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. John 12:46

The valleys were in desperate need of a drink…
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I fear no evil, for You are with me;Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

Beautiful mountains
And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. Matthew 17:20

We crossed over the Klamath river
Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb… Revelation 22:1

We passed wildflowers and tamed flowers and some were… lilies.
And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the fieldgrow; they do not toil nor do they spin… Matthew 6:28

Green pastures were scattered between the dry lands…
He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. Psalm 23:2

Old, beautiful barns
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? Matthew 6:26

As we drove, I continued to think about the verses I could remember and thanked God I could remember them! There is hope in being able to remember God’s word; to be able to recall it as you get older.

I thought of my children and how that would have been a fun traveling game when we went on trips. I guess if I ever do a trip with my granddaughter, I’ll have a great activity. ‘Til then, if you have kids, why not use this as a travel game on your next trip around the country—or around town. And if you can’t think of a verse to go with something you see, look one up when you get home and make that the verse to learn for the week.

And, have fun!

Starting On My Knees

(Originally posted in 2003)

The other day I woke up to the sound of my radio alarm: discouraging news and singing cowboys. I don’t care much for that kind of music and I don’t like depressing news. Both get me shutting the alarm off quick.

I walked out of my bedroom and as I neared the top of the stairs, I could hear music coming from my daughter’s room. I listened to the CD she had playing, and as I could clearly decipher the words, it confirmed the theory formulating in my head: it was rather loud. I asked myself, how can you listen to that much noise in the morning? I would have gone in there and demanded she turn it down except that, besides the fact that everyone else was up and awake, I liked the song she was listening to.

It did, however, make me think about how mornings begin for many people. NOISY! We wake to the sounds of high-pitched beeps and screeches from our alarms or to the tunes of musicians who more than likely should have put their guitars to rest long ago. Then, reluctantly, we pull ourselves out of bed and begin our day.

We sit in cars, wait at stop lights, fiddle with radio stations searching for just the song, listen to the clamor of our minds rattle back and forth as to all the things we need to remember to do, people to call, places to go and the list endlessly goes, on and on.

When we get to work, if it isn’t high powered machinery that fills our ears and empty crevices of our brains, it’s the rattle of computer keys, the cries of children or adults, the needs of customers, and ultimately, our own thoughts of what we’re going to fix for dinner, what we need at the store, or whose turn is it to pick up the kids.

As I took a moment to listen to the song coming from my daughter’s room, I wondered how little we actually fill our mornings with quietness. How little we fill our mornings with the whispers of God. It made me wonder if God spoke to me in this morning, here and now, would I hear him through the clatter of all the other noise?

There are days I know that I definitely miss the mark. And I find that those days are usually the messiest. There is little peace, no direction, much confusion, lots of frustration. Those days readily take me to my knees in a cry for help and forgiveness.

Do we stop to listen to the voice of God? Do we stop and enjoy His overwhelming tenderness towards us as we seek His heart? Do we let the early morning alarm go off and allow the voices of others to blare over what God has to say to us in that day? Do we make time for the morning paper, but no time for His word?

It is my prayer that I do make the time, by making it a priority to be with the one who waits for me to draw near to His heart and feast on His unfailing love. Unless I do, I will walk through the day in my own strength and land where I have landed so often before – on my face.

Though the hard way, I have learned, I would much rather start the day on my knees.

I Think I Can Breathe Again…

This was originally written in 2013…

Puddle Jumping

Steven Curtis Chapman says it best…

I don’t even wanna breathe right now
All I wanna do is close my eyes
But I don’t wanna open them again
Until I’m standing on the other side
I don’t even wanna be right now
I don’t wanna think another thought
And I don’t wanna feel this pain I feel
And right now, pain is all I’ve got.”

Today was a hard day.

Let me back up.

Three days ago I waved good-bye to my son, his wife, and my two grandchildren as they drove down the street, on their way to Northern Idaho to a new home, to new jobs, to a new life. Now instead of twelve minutes away, it’s fifteen hours.

My two grandchildren, one five and the other, one year old. My two grandchildren, who I have watched almost since day one. Every day. All day while mom and dad were at work.

I helped them learn to walk. Eat with a spoon. Drink from a cup.

I sat in that rocking chair over there, and rocked them to sleep. Sang hymns to them. Read to them about the “pants with nobody inside of them” (Dr. Suess). Held them when they were sick or healthy or when they just wanted to be held.

I sat at that table over there and played games with Boo, colored, painted, had tea parties.

And then one day, not long ago, my son announced a new job opportunity and you can guess the rest and that’s why I stood outside on Sunday morning, waving good-bye to a car filled with precious ones.

And Sunday, after they left, I went to the rose garden and everywhere I walked I heard Boo. I saw her chasing the blackbirds. And I could hear her excitement upon finally seeing the elusive jack rabbit we’ve been tracking for months – if only she had been there.

And Monday I worked in the garden and watered her garden – a garden filled with volunteer larkspur, bachelor buttons, poppies. She was so proud of her garden. I worked out there most all day. I worked out there until I couldn’t move. I worked out there so I didn’t have to think.

And Tuesday, yesterday, I still couldn’t move. I moved too much on Monday and paid for it on Tuesday. I had lost mobility and.. gained pain in its place. I sat on the couch and worked on my pictures and cried. My digital albums are filled with children’s smiles and I could almost hear the giggles behind them.

And then there was today. At one point I felt like I had been locked in a blackened room – hopeless, lost, empty. And I wept. For something lost. And it felt as if my heart was literally breaking in two. The crack I could live with a week ago became a bottomless crevice. The strength that held me together a week ago had become jello.

And I wept.
God, how am I going to do this?, I whispered through tears that hadn’t spilled out so hard in so long.

My head told me those two little ones were not mine to hold onto. I was not even their parent. Can a Grammy love her little Grammy grandchildren so very much?

Yes. Yes – she most definitely can.

As I sat on the bathroom floor, I cried some more and through the tears whispered, God, I lived for those kids.

They were my daily dose of laughter, love, smiles, hugs, joy. God used those two little ones to bless me over and above in so many ways I never deserved. I viewed them as my little disciples and we talked about God everywhere we went. In everything we did.

How I found the energy to do it every day, only God knows. I napped with John and napped when they went home. I fought through the pain within my body and refused to not hold my grandkids or change diapers even when I didn’t think I could stand it another minute.
My body was screaming to let go. My heart was screaming to hold on. My head was saying it was time. Time to listen to the body. The disease that strives to claim more ground with each passing day. Time to let go.

It was the grace of God that intervened. But oh how it can hurt.

And then I heard it. That still, small voice that you can hear when you’re sobbing uncontrollably because your not busy talking and making incessant, un-needful noise and chatter. The comforting, life-giving voice of God.

God, I lived for those kids, I had whispered through tears.

And before I could go on to the next thought of despair, He whispered back.

“Live for me.”

The uncontrollable sobbing became controlled. The tears dried up (for that day). A tiny ray of sunshine, a tiny grain of hope took hold deep inside my heart and the crevice began to close and return to a crack. A few more tears fell. Not from grief but because of grace. The grace of God. The trustworthy grace of a merciful God.

I don’t know what living for Him looks like in the days ahead – His plans, His dreams for me – but as I live for Him, I will trust Him completely. I’ve been through too much in my lifetime to do anything less.

Like I said, Steven Curtis Chapman says it best…

I don’t wanna feel this pain I feel
And right now, pain is all I’ve got.
It feels like it’s all I’ve got, but I know it’s not
No, I know You’re all I’ve got
And I will trust You, I’ll trust You
Trust You, God, I will
Even when I don’t understand, even then I will say again
You are my God, and I will trust You.
Trust You. I will trust You.

Even when I don’t understand the physical, emotional, or mental pain, I will trust Him.

In the Dark of the Morning

the dark of the night
in the valley of the shadows
of this disease
i will fear

nothing

though it surrounds me
invisible
relentless
from every side

still

i will fear nothing

in the dark of the night
though my body trembles
and my heart shakes
still

i will fear nothing

in the dark of night
when my mind dances
as a winter storm
loosed from its chains
and playing the game of what-ifs

still

i will fear nothing

when the dark of the night
threatens to consume my soul
to lay me outstretched
emotionally naked before the world

still

i will fear nothing

for the dark of the night
will turn its ugly face
to the Light of the morning
and there

there

i will feel no more
i will see no more
i will fear no more

for there will be
no more
shadows

there will be no more disease

in the Light of that morning

A Christmas Story

a young woman
a man
a donkey
and a very long ride

a stable
some straw, a mouse perhaps…

what’s going on
inside?

a trough
a cow
some sheep
and a quiet, sleeping baby

a woman
a man
trying to get some sleep
well… maybe

a star
some shepherds
some gifts
and a few traveling kings
gathered around
a baby born
to save the world

of all things

One God
as the Son,
came from heaven
to earth
to reign
heaven rejoiced
angels sang
over this precious baby’s
miraculous birth
again
and again
and again

All You Need

Oh soul,
why do you weep?
why do you want,
when everything you need is right here?
right here in front of you –
always has been,
always will be.

Oh soul,
why do you despair?
why do you fret
when everything that can calm you is right here?
right here before you –
always has been,
always will be.

Oh soul,
why do you fear?
why do you anxiously await what may never be,
when peace awaits you –
right here,
right now.

I,
the Lord your God –
I am all you need.
And I am here,
before you –
now.
Always have been.
Always will be.