Happily Ever After, After All

Sometimes life just doesn’t seem to go as you once thought it might. There’s no glass slippers, pumpkins don’t turn into elegant carriages, mice don’t sing and there are no fairy godmothers who fly around twirling their wands while wisps of fairy dust softly fall here and there.

Sometimes I’ve thought that fairy tales should be banned from a little girl’s childhood. Tales of deception that lead her into believing that life turns out happily ever after.

We who believe that we have a God that loves and cares for us—a God who fights for us—know that life is not so carefree or our God would not have need to fight. In other words, life is not so carefree.

Yet, I suppose one could argue that fairy tales are actually beneficial, in a sense, for they allow us to hope for something better, something purer, something more. Perhaps fairy tales inadvertently lead us on our road of faith, searching for that something better, something purer, something more. Perhaps they lead us to discover that elusive prince charming. And in our search, we find that the illusive becomes reality having eventually finding that something better, something purer, something more.

For years the Israelites roamed the desert, wanting out, wanting to be freed, wanting a prince to save them. For years they grumbled and complained.

For centuries, the descendants of David waited for a redeemer. For years they overlooked the One that had been given them.

I’m pretty sure that for a while Cinderella thought her life was destined for drudgery and doom, soot and suffering. Yet, when she least expected it, her prince showed up. She tried on the magic slipper, it fit and he took her home. And as the story goes, they lived happily ever after.

We tend to spend years looking for that elusive prince. The one who comes riding in on a white stallion – the one who will take us back to the castle to live happily ever after.

We neglect to realize… He’s already here.

There is a castle, where He is preparing a room, just for you. And there is a white stallion ready to ride to where you are. And there is a Prince. He doesn’t have glass slippers to prove you are His, but He does have a cross that He hung on and died—just for you.

Wait just a minute –

A castle.

A prince.

I suppose that makes me His princess.

I guess there really is a happily ever after, after all.

A Reading, A Response, A Renewing

Pink Lady Photo by S. Woodbridge, 2017

‘Cry loudly’, He says to me, ‘and do not hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet and tell my children of their sin.’ (Isaiah 58:1)

‘Lord’, I answer, ‘they’re not going to like that and, they’re not going to like me.’

‘Your point?’ He responds. Exactly. I knew He’d say that.

‘They seek Me day after day and get excited about knowing My will as children who have done good and remembered My ways. They ask Me for guidance and they enjoy My presence.’ He was silent, then continued…

‘But’, He began and I knew this truth was going to sting, ‘then they say, ‘God, look, we’ve fasted for you and you didn’t even notice. We gave up the chocolate cookies, the cokes, the chips, the BBQ chicken for a whole day and it seems like You didn’t even notice.’

Again the pause. I wonder if He does that for effect because plainly, it’s very effective.

‘On the day you fast’, He said, ‘you get what you want – and yet, you treat others as if you’re better than they are. You fast to bring peace and yet you hold anger in your heart. You don’t fast so that I’ll hear you. Do you think this is what I want, for you to humble yourself for one day? Do you think a fast is only about bowing your head and going through rituals? Do you think this fast, as you call it, is what I desire?’

Silence captured every tongue and stillness pervaded. I was on my knees, head bowed not out of habit or in participation of a ritual, but in sorrow, in repentance.

His words were gentle as He knelt in front of me, lifted my chin and spoke.

‘Beloved, the fast I desire – a fast that will cleanse – is one where chains of injustice are broken. Prejudice. Bias. Discrimination. Bigotry. Favoritism. These things I detest.’

I knelt there, speechless at the words he spoke. And tenderness. Tears filled my eyes and rolled down the length of my cheeks and onto the floor. How could He even look at me? It was then I realized that these words were not spoken and preserved for someone other than me. But the words He tenderly spoke, without condemnation or anger, were words of truth and I could not ignore or deny them.

Prejudice. A word I try to ignore, deny, and justify that I have every right to feel to my core. But, doesn’t it go against what God is asking me to give up? His fast requires giving up unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes. And, He showed, this can be favoritism. Discrimination and prejudice don’t necessarily come in the form of unfavorable opinions or feelings, but can be demonstrated by giving my favor to one and not necessarily the other.

I praised God that there is no separation of differences toward His children. We are created equal even if we appear different to each other.

I was ready to move on. To get on with something else.

He wasn’t.

‘Now let me show you what I mean about exploitation in the workplace,’ He spoke. I was ready. Or so I thought.

We turned on my computer. I opened up an email from a mission organization. It dealt with bringing Christians globally into an awareness of a concerted pandemic: sex tourism, otherwise known as global sex trade slavery. And, it is children who are caught in this fast growing disease. In Cambodia alone, where the world’s poorest people live, children are sold for $50-$800 to satisfy the sinful lusts of others. My heart sank. This was only a fraction of what was going on all around the world.

It is phenomenal. It is overwhelming.

‘Oh God!’ I cry out. I never ask why but I can’t help wondering… WHY? These children are trying to survive. These children are INNOCENT.

And in the tears I remember the why… Because we are all sinners. Every single, last one of us. Oh God, I pray. Come soon… I just don’t know what else to say and so, I just pray…

And then, as I go to shut off my computer, I realize there is evidence to fast, once again. People in China carry on with life as normal as they pass by a newborn baby girl, dumped in the gutter of a busy street early one workday – because she is a girl. And it goes on, each and every day, as our computer screens are filled with the same exploitation of life occurring here in our homes as women cry out through false promises made and plaster on painted smiles hoping no one will notice that their happily ever afters have turned into nightmares. Come we do, as a nation addicted and running toward the lies of pornography. There is no favoritism in this disease – it afflicts young and old, male and female alike and because we don’t talk about, we don’t get well.

If we fast for the cause of God’s desires, we cannot stand, with head bowed, spreading sackcloth and ashes… No, we fall to our knees, we fall on our face and literally cry out for the lost souls in need of redemption from slavery of every sort. From exploitation of every kind.

I pray Natalie Grant’s song for the children:
‘Lord, may they know your love and to know that you have promised to hold them. May they know what it means to be held when the sacred is torn from their life and they survive. May they know they survive because it is You that is holding them. Hold them tight Lord. Love them, keep Your promise to them and hold them tight.’

‘Free the oppressed.’

I am still on my knees. I am drained and empty. My head raises and still He is there.

I am nothing.

Before this glorious One, I am absolutely nothing. And still He stays.

I have nothing. And yet again, he commands.

‘Free the oppressed,’ He repeats.

‘Oh Father,’ I cry, tears streaming down my face, eyes clouded so thick from a river of tears I cannot even see.

‘I am no one. I am nothing.’

‘Free the oppressed.’

‘How?’ I cry.

How can I, being me, free the oppressed and what does that mean to a righteous, merciful God?

The oppressed: those who are discouraged, beaten down, overwhelmed. How can I do that? I am nothing.

‘Not you,’ he says, ‘but Me through you.’

Have you ever felt so inadequate, wondering how you will accomplish the task before you, only to have someone say, ‘Here. Take this tool. It is all you need.’?

That was what that moment was all about. He is the tool, His spirit in us. I cannot free the oppressed but His spirit can work miracles through me if I am usable.

‘God’, I offer with gratitude, ‘Use me.’

Free the oppressed. Those weighted down with grief, those burdened in body and in spirit.

But how?

With love, gentleness, mercy. How did Jesus do this? He touched the untouchable, took time for them, loved them.

The bleeding woman. Oppressed with a lifelong illness, she touched His robe and he stopped, turned around and gave her love and she was healed.

The man with leprosy. Jesus stopped, touched the untouchable and loved him. The man was healed.

The woman was at the well and He stopped, extended forgiveness towards the scandalous, healed and loved.

Free the oppressed. It takes stopping your feet, noticing and not to continue walking by. It takes compassion and having a heart to see them freed. Because we have been freed. It takes forgiveness. Perhaps that is why He also desires for us to cancel the debts of others. He knows that forgiveness – the ultimate cancellation of a debt – frees the soul, renews the spirit. Both to offer and to receive.

‘Lord, I want to free those who are oppressed and I realize that there may be some who I have oppressed by not canceling debts, holding grudges, harboring bitterness. Oh Lord, forgive me, not as I forgive but teach me to forgive, as you forgive.’

My heart is raw. My eyes are swollen. And still there is more…

‘Beloved, my fast is to share with the poor – bring them home and feed them.’

Oh, there are a thousand reasons not to do that. There is only one reason to do it. He desires my all. That is all. And so, as I pray for an open heart, an opportunity for obedience, I confess fear. And in my fear, the God who promised, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you and with me all things are possible,’ reassures me of His truths.

‘Give to the poor – food, clothing, shelter.’

And then, ‘Be available to your family. Be accessible, ready to serve, committed to them and not everything else.’

He had started out striking at the core of my heart and here he was, back at the same place. Be available to my family. How I wish I had been convicted by that truth years ago. How important that truth, that command. Not a suggestion but a command.

Be there – accessible in such a way they can get to me in need, in want. Ready to serve them. God said that, not me. Committed to them, their causes, their desires and not everything else that screams for my attention.

Be available. I once heard said that the quality of time spent with your child comes from the quantity of time we invest in them. In retrospect, I gave much quantity, but I could have given so much more.

We get caught up listening to the world: ‘You need time for you’ or, ‘You deserve that’. We deserve nothing. I have never, ever read in God’s word that we deserve anything, except maybe for death because we are sinners from the start. We deserve nothing but have been given everything. And so, when God says, ‘Be available,’ I stop and think what availability looks like.

I consider that when I’m interrupted from doing something that I deem of utmost importance, I should not think of it as an interruption but an opportunity. An opportunity to be like Him… loving, devoted, listening, concerned.

I consider that when I’m complaining, I am not representing a godly character but one that shouts ‘ME, ME, ME’.

I consider that when I’m angry, many times it is a result of hurt and forgiveness that needs to be dealt with and bridges that need to be repaired.

I consider that when I feel lonely and distant from members of my family, perhaps it is I who have built the walls, or have at least helped make them higher. Either way, it needs to be me that at least helps tear them down.

Available. Yes Lord, I want to be available.

‘Now listen,’ he begins, sitting now before me and taking my hands in His with an air of excitement. ‘Your light will break out of you like the beginning of a new day as the sun comes over the mountain tops!’

Have you ever thought about that? If our light is going to break out of us, it’s already there, just waiting to burst forth! I got so excited, I squeezed His hands and smiled.

‘And, your recovery will speedily bring forth.’

My recovery? Healing. From what? Sin.

Recovery, healing from sin will come. The sin of neglect, ignorance, deliberateness. Inflicted upon me, upon others by me.

And my righteousness will go before me. A righteousness not of my own, but His in me. The glory of the Lord will be my rear guard. I am protected by the very presence of God.

Then I will call and He will answer me. You see, God cannot reside where there is sin and there is sin in fasting for selfishness and wrong motives. There is sin in prejudice and injustice and overlooking the sin issues of this world. There is sin in keeping to myself what will free the souls of others. There is sin in choosing to harbor bitterness and refusing to offer forgiveness.

But, when I willfully choose to do as He has asked of me – to fast on His terms (as a friend put it), to purge myself from injustice of every sort, at the least to pray for those who have been exploited, to free the oppressed with the Good News of Jesus Christ, offering forgiveness where debts once piled high – then I will call, I will cry out and He will say, ‘Here I am’, just as He is now before me.

‘Your light will rise in the darkness and your gloom will become like the sun as it shines brightly, in all it’s glory. I will continually guide you and satisfy your thirst in your dry places and give you strength in your weariness. You will be like a watered garden, green, always growing and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail, always flowing, ready to give, always fresh and replenished continually. Your children will rebuild what has been ruined and broken and you will be remembered as the one who repaired what had been broken, the restorer.’

I was silent. Holding tight onto His hands, I thought, ‘Me?’

No, not me. Him in me.

‘I’ll be for you, Lord. You lead.’

And with that, He smiled.

Heaven’s Warriors – God’s Mighty Army of Angels

Little Church House in Woodburn, OR

Today I saw an angel. It was sitting on a bench in someone’s backyard under a flowering cherry tree. With wings fastened securely to his back and legs crossed, he was looking down at the grass below. He looked peaceful and serene and almost life-like except for the fact that this angel was made of cement.

But it made me wonder how many angels we pass by each day or who are standing with us and we are oblivious to them. For example, we have the angel of the Lord encamped around us and he delivers us from our troubles. (Ps. 34:7) And the Lord says that He has commanded his angels concerning us to guard us in all our ways; to lift us up in their hands, to keep us from harm (Ps. 91:11) Children have angels in heaven that have the divine attention of God Almighty (Matthew 18:10)! We have angels that are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:13). And haven’t we all heard the verse which tells us to not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels unaware (Hebrews 13:2)?

After seeing that cement angel, I passed by another house, seemingly empty. But was it? I looked at the front porch where it was still. If a bbeliever resides in that home, it is more than probable that there stands a mighty warrior at the door post, ready for battle should harm beckon at the front steps.

I love the verse in Psalm 91, where it says, the LORD says that HE has commanded his angels concerning us to guard us in all our ways; to lift us up in their hands, to keep us from harm. Did you get that? God Almighty, the creator of the heavens and the earth has commanded – commanded – his angels. There’s no choice. He has given an order and they are to carry it out. And it concerns us! He has told them to guard us in all our ways – in all we do, wherever we are. To guard us – to stand as a sentry and protect us, defend us, be a shield, to stand watch over us and be a shelter.

Can’t you just see that? Dangers, toils and snares – and there are the Lord’s angels, hovering over you, covering you with their mighty wings so that no harm will come to you. And what’s more, they are there to not only guard you, but to lift you up in their hands. Picture that!

I love the story in the Old Testament about Nehemiah rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. He talks about how the wall is half built and then Sanballat hears about it and isn’t too keen on the whole idea. And neither are some other people who live in Judah or the Ammonites, the Arabs and more. Nehemiah hears about their plans to attack and so he stations people behind the lowest points of the wall. He encourages them to remember that God is great and to fight for their brothers, son, daughters – their families.

Nehemiah goes on to say that from that day on, the day that their enemies plans had been thwarted, half of his men did the work rebuilding the wall while the other half were equipped with every kind of weapon, ready for battle. Nehemiah tells the people that there’s a lot of work to be done but God would fight for them should the trumpet sound for battle.

That makes me think of heaven’s warriors. They are stationed at the lowest points of the walls around us. While they are encamped about us, we need to stand firm and remember that we are still called to fight as well. We are to stand guard, equipped with every kind of weapon (the armor of God). Our battle trumpet is sounding and God is fighting for us. There’s still much work to be done, but we don’t do it alone. We have mighty angels keeping us from harm in the palm of their hands. Children have their own personal angels, capturing the attention of God concerning them. We have angels who are sent to serve us. Ministering angels. Angels that are there to care for us, look after us, comfort, tend to and, again, to guard us.

Angels don’t sit out in the garden with their legs crossed, staring at the grass. They stand near us, ready to fight. They are heaven’s warriors, sent personally by God to care for us. Those whom they lift up in the palm of their hands.

Do you believe in angels?

Just One Rose

Just Peachy
Photo by Sherri Woodbridge

A  woman who wanted affirmation from God that He did, indeed, hear her desperate prayers. She had been raised to believe that laying a fleece before Him was taboo, but at this point in her life, she didn’t know what else to do. Her bitterness and sorrow were growing day by day.

She approached the throne of God and made her request known. She asked her heavenly Father that  if He was listening, to send her a red or a yellow rose.

She awoke the next morning, dressed, and headed off to work. All was usual. Even the co-worker that came into her office. And, this wasn’t just any co-worker, but the one that annoyed her due to his perky, joyful attitude. He was too happy and that annoyed her for one simple reason. She wasn’t.

As usual, he was his regular self – full of perk and joy. And full of the smiles she had come to nearly despise. This particular day he greeted her, hands behind his back. She wasn’t in the mood for smiling or merriment. Somehow he had sensed that from her lately and on this particular day he brought her a gift. “A little something,” he felt prompted to explain, “that I thought would cheer you up. The red one is to remind you that you are cherished by a big God and the yellow one is to remind you that He is in control and wants you to be at peace.”

Before he could finish, tears were streaming down her face. The years of sorrow and loss that had turned to bitterness and despair, washed away with the tears that ran down her face that day. God had been listening and answered not just with one rose, but two.

After reading her post, I sat at my computer, staring at the screen. Tears rolled down my cheeks. It was at that very moment that I, too, prayed for a rose. A fleece in the form of a scented bloom. I would not be so bold as to be specific as to color. Any rose would do. I wasn’t picky.

While in the process of moving, packing up our too many belongings, putting them in storage and heading who knows where, we are, I guess one might say – temporarily ‘homeless’. Unable to meet our financial demands in our current place of residence, we are seeking God’s will for the next placement, while not knowing what that looks like or where it is.

With each box that is taped and labeled, the question remains in the back of my mind as to when these boxes of mementoes, memories and more will be opened. The bigger question that haunts me is whether or not we are doing the right thing. Believing we are and at the same time, feeling like we’ve gone absolutely crazy.

So, sitting there before the computer, I laid a fleece before the throne of God. I asked for affirmation that we were making the right choices and doing the right thing. I didn’t need to know where He was taking us or when or how. I just wanted to know we were being obedient and not on some crazy path made of our own accord.

The next day my son was visiting and I was in the other room when the doorbell rang. He answered it and I could hear him talking to someone. By the time I got upstairs, the visitor had left. I asked him who was at the door and he said it was one of my friends. She had brought something for me and he had put it on the kitchen counter. I turned around and looking into the kitchen, there on the counter stood six perfect, as beautiful as I’ve ever seen, red roses from her garden.

I am overwhelmed at the goodness of God. He doesn’t just answer our prayers, but goes beyond what we could have imagined, assuring us that he is indeed listening and answering in abundance.

In the Midst of Sorrow and Suffering

 A man is taken to the ER for breathing issues and is looked after in the ER and sent home the same night. After being at home for a time, he has breathing problems again, this time accompanied by a headache. He closes his eyes to get some rest and passes quietly that evening in his sleep.

A young woman is making wedding plans, only to come home the other evening and find that her fiancé has taken his life.

A mom, 32, goes to ER for the flu. She is a wife and mother of two little girls under three years. She never went home.

A tornado hits in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It claims three lives and destroys much of the William Carey University where a friend is attending. She says that the chapel is heavily damaged but inside, there still stands, in its regular place, the word of God. The tempest has not been able to destroy the Book or its message. The president announces that its pages, after the winds have blown them hither and yon, lay open to Psalm 46. A message God wants all to remember. Desires all to hear.

“Listen to me… you whom I have upheld since your birth,
 and have carried since you were born.

“Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
 I have made you and I will carry you;
  I will sustain you and I will rescue you…

“Remember this, keep it in mind…

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
 I am God, and there is no other;
  I am God, and there is none like me.

I make known the end from the beginning,
 from ancient times, what is still to come. 
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
 and I will do all that I please.’

…What I have said, that I will bring about;
    what I have planned, that I will do.

Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted,
    you who are now far from my righteousness.

I am bringing my righteousness near,
 it is not far away;
 and my salvation will not be delayed.
I will grant salvation to Zion,
 my splendor to Israel.”

Coincidence?

For those who have lost loved ones, to those who are grieving, to those who are deeply hurting, to those who carry sorrow that is weighing them down…

His righteousness near. It is not faraway. His salvation will not be delayed. He is God. There is no other – no one like Him. He will sustain you. He made you and He will carry you. He will sustain and rescue you.

He will. He will.

He will.

 

Broken for Good

To trust God in the light is nothing,

but to trust Him in the dark –

that is faith.

Charles Spurgeon

I intervene for those who are hurting.

Those who are surrounded by a darkness
only they are able to see.
A darkness that calls out their name
and then leaves laughing as they come.
Leaves them in despair,
mocking them for believing the truth
that can save them.

I intervene for their well-being.
Their light.
Their life.
And then I see them.
I hear them.
They are the Promises.
Promises of truth when life gets messy
and we get dirty.
Promises made to a broken and hurting world.

I see a vessel.
Shaped much like myself
and cracked.
Like me.
A vessel that must be broken
in order to be used.
To be useful.
Without the brokenness,
the light can’t get in
and the light cannot get out.
Without the brokenness
there is no story
for there is nothing to tell.
Without the brokenness
there is nothing to share.
There is no understanding.
There is no comfort
in tears shared together.
Darkness permeates the vessel,
where storms rage
and the enemy attacks.

Hope seems lost.
But remember –
oh how we must not forget –
the vessel is broken.
and light does get through the cracks.
It comes in
before it goes back out.
It fills the inside
with warmth
and power.
The glory of His light spills out.
The shadows flee.
Hope triumphs.
A prisoner is set free.