A Lot Can Happen In Just Three Days

The Son is Always There
Photo by Sherri Woodbridge

It was three days later. Three days after they had laid him behind the stone that everyone said would take at least six men to move, most likely more.

Three days after he had told his closest friends he would be back. Three days after his would-be, so-called followers asked for his blood to pay for crimes he didn’t commit.

Three days. A lot can happen in three days but in this town not much was happening. People were quiet. Afraid. Despairing. Hopeless. In hiding. Unaware.

Quiet for the uproar had subsided. It was believed the cause was now gone. But, a lot can happen in three days no matter how quiet it may seem.

People were afraid. Afraid of what might or never might be. Afraid of being connected. Afraid of being disconnected. But – a lot of connection can be lost but a lot of connection can also be restored in just three days.

People were in despair and void of hope. Despairing over what they had once hoped for because what they had once hoped for now seemed forever gone. But – despair can give birth to hope and hope can give birth to life in just three days.

People feared for their lives, afraid of being put to death for something they once thought would save them. They were unaware of what was happening in those three days.

Three days and the One who gave hope that led to despair had other plans that third day. Plans other than watching three devoted women prepare a body for burial. Three women who were making their way to a tomb that no longer held the One which they sought. Three women who walked quietly. Three women who seemed to have misplaced their hope. Three women who stopped, cheeks wet from fresh fallen tears, to discuss how they were going to move the stone just yards before them. The stone that covered the entrance to the tomb where the body of their beloved laid. The body they had come to prepare for burial.

Fresh tears fell again for though they are ready to prepare the body of the one they love, the three women are unprepared in strength and all their pondering won’t help. They know they cannot move the stone. Still, they step those extra feet, one foot in front of the other, and they approach the tomb.

The stone is not there.

The tomb is open.

As Dr. David Jeremiah said in so many words, have you ever wondered if the stone had not necessarily been opened for the Beloved to walk out of but for us to step into? For us to see that He was not there? For us to see such a miracle for ourselves? The miracle of the empty tomb?

The women listened to the angel who stood waiting at the entrance of the tomb. Three women who had spent their morning walking a quiet, sorrowful journey to do a grievous task. Waiting to give them cause to renew their faith and a reason to dispel their fears.

For three days they had wept. For three days they were lost, alone, and despairing. But then came the third day and instead of finding a body waiting for burial, they found hope anew in an empty tomb. Hope that beckoned them to come, see for themselves that what their Beloved tried to make them understand days, weeks, months earlier – it had now come to pass.

Death could not defeat Him. Hell could not hold Him back. Fear was conquered through faith and despair was laid to waste through death. It was finished.

A lot can happen in just three days.

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.

 

Psalm 9: We Are But Men

Cabinet Mountains Photo by Sherri Woodbridge
Cabinet Mountains
Photo by Sherri Woodbridge

A paraphrase of Psalm 9

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all the wonderful things You do for me.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.

Because you go with me, my enemies turn back;
they stumble and perish before you – You are to be feared.
You have upheld my right and my cause,
sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.
You are holy and just.
You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.

The way of the wicked leads to death and destruction.
You, oh Lord, have already destroyed the enemy,
the memory of them and what they have done.

Why? Because you reign forever;
You have established Your throne for judgment.
You rule the world in righteousness,
in fairness, impartiality, and justness.
You, oh Lord, are a refuge –
a safe place to run to,
a place to hide
for those who are,
for those who have been,
and for those who will be
oppressed,
filled with sorrow,
abused.
You are our hiding place in times of trouble.

Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Sing praises to the Lord,
tell others what he has done.
For the One who fights for us remembers;
He does not ignore the cries
of the afflicted
of the hurting
of the oppressed

The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug;
their feet are caught in the net they themselves have hidden.
The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
the wicked are caught by the work of their own hands.
The destruction of sinners is of themselves.
God remains in control.

All the nations that forget God –
they will live an eternity of torment.
But our God will never forget the needy;
the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

Arise, O LORD!
Do not let mere mortals defy you!
Do not allow them to ignore and disobey any longer…
Judge the nations!
Strike them with terror, Lord;
 let the nations know they are but men.

Bittersweet

IMG_7318.JPGdeath
bittersweet
tears shed more for my loss
a sadness turned to joy at your gain

a few hours back
I sat
while watching you struggle
your breathing labored
your brow furrowed
your grip loosening from life

not only did you no longer hold onto my hand
but it was evident
you were no longer holding onto this life

beginning to see the moment after
the beginning of forever

and in your pain
the lingering thought
never far away…

“It could always be worse.”

that’s what you always said
when pain
tried
to steal your joy

nevermore
will you have to lessen reality
nevermore
will you have to compare
your suffering
with another
nevermore
will you be asked to walk
through shadowed valleys

for
nevermore
will you walk
in the valleys
for you now walk
eternal life in green pastures,
beside still waters
forevermore walk

with the King

looking upon what was once you,
i am granted
a holy experience
unexpected
beautiful
glorious

death is a holy thing
it can be a thing of worship
a thing of praise

the final thing
you teach me
sitting beside you upon your bed.

a holy moment
with its depth of peace
with its loosening of this life
as the passing to the next takes place

a thing of worship
where the sovereignty of the Almighty
clashes with earthly desires and hopes
evidence

that He is

a thing of praise
when pain ceases
removed
by the hand of God
so as to take your hand
instead
leading you from death
into life

what gratitude fills me
to have stood on holy ground
to have felt His goodness, His presence
in that room

to see that the hand of God
had taken you – sick and dying –
and made you whole
made you alive again

to see that the hand of God
had removed the struggle in the living
removed the laboring in the breathing
removed the furroweing of brow from your face

your grip
loosened in death
holds tight to the hand of God
for eternity

i can’t wait
til I see you again.

My Burden Bearer

O God, listen to my cry!

Hear my prayer.

From the ends of the earth,

I cry to you for help

when my heart is overwhelmed.

Lead me to the towering rock of safety…

Psalm 61:1-2

 I am a big fixer.  I want everyone to be happy.  Smiling.  Content.  But that’s not reality.  The reality is that it is not up to me to fix everything.  And, it’s not up to me to keep everyone happy, smiling, and content. To do that, I’d have to be in control of the universe. That’s not going to happen. Ever

I realized yesterday I tend to coddle people.  I realized yesterday I don’t like coddling people.  I realized yesterday that I taught my son to do that.  I realized yesterday – that is not a good thing.  And, in all of my yesterday-realizations, I realized – I need to stop.  The world’s happiness has not been made my burden.  I am accountable for only myself in how I choose react to the next set of circumstances that this world throws at me.

Roger Crawford once said, “Being challenged in this life is inevitable. Being defeated is a choice.”

I have a chronic illness and how I choose to deal with it is what matters. Will I choose to believe and trust that my God is bigger than all of this or – will I demonstrate to others that life is a burden to bear and I want them all to know what I suffer?

It is one thing to suffer.  It is another to “suffer” for the sake of attention. That is the “suffering” I wish to avoid.  For myself and toward others. Pity is never pretty.

When I was a little girl, I used to lie in bed at night when I couldn’t sleep, pretending to be a patient in a hospital so people would come and visit me.  In my illusions, I received the attention I longed for. But I am not a little girl anymore and illusions aren’t real and certainly don’t bring comfort.

Now when I lay awake in bed, sometimes I think about those sleepless nights as a little girl and I don’t want to be that needy person.  I want to be strong for myself and supportive for others. I can only do that by pairing up with the One who said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.”* 

Not fully understanding, I use to cringe at that verse. Wasn’t a yoke heavy and bulky? Burdensome? I had seen those things. How could they lighten your load? Then I did a little research. A yoke is heavy and bulky – a burden. But – when paired with a fellow burden bearer – Jesus – it suddenly becomes much, much lighter. And Jesus, being a gentle and oh-so-humble-teacher, teaches us to carry our loads and find rest for our weary souls – when we are yoked to Him, our fellow burden bearer.

Whether it’s another day walking slow and painfully stiff, or whether it’s another morning weeding my garden without pain, I will be accountable as to how I spent this day. I want to spend it well and not end it pitifully seeking illusory attention. Besides, if I am yoked to Him, I’m getting all the strength and attention I need and I now can spend those restless, sleepless nights praising God for His gentleness and faithfulness while praying for others.

From my heart ~ Sherri

*Matthew 11:29 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Catching the Attention of Heaven

 He closes the car door and she  waves one last goodbye and he slowly pulls away from the curb. He is in no hurry to leave her. She is no hurry to wave goodbye. His car inches down the road and with her back, now to him, she walks toward the front door. And I can see her wipe a tear that involuntarily runs toward her cheek. As his car gets  further down the road, I imagine a tear finding its way down his cheek.

A mother of almost 65 years. A son for 55. 

Good-byes are always hard. Made harder by age and ill health. And I sit here, I watch real life drama as I rock a precious  baby boy who is just starting his journey.  Will tears form when, one day, he will find himself having to say good-bye to someone he dearly loves? 

** ** **

Two women approach a tomb, making ready to say their last good-byes to someone they dearly loved. They have brought their finest for the finest man they have ever known. The closer they get to the grave, the more anxious they become, for they fear something is amiss. The stone that sealed the grave is no longer in place, but has been rolled away and the body they came to prepare  is gone.

Gone!

Gone and no last goodbyes. By now a few of the disciples have also come and left but Mary, one of the two women who had arrived first, stays behind, standing outside of the tomb crying.

Tears are powerful. They say much when nothing else can be said. They communicate both sorrow and joy.

Mary stands, weeping and her tears of grief, sorrow, disappointment, emptiness, sadness catch the attention of the Almighty. He sends two angels to the tomb. They ask her, “Woman, why are you crying?” She answers. “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have taken Him.” She hears a noise behind her and turns around to see a man standing behing her and again she is asked the question by him, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”

Mary thinks she is speaking to the gardener and asks, “Sir, if you have taken him, tell me where and I’ll go get him.”

Goodbyes – last goodbyes – are important. They put a finality to life that is often difficult to do without them. We can often continue expecting to see that familiar face that is no more without an ‘official’ goodbye.

Mary is beside herself. She is empty. Grief-stricken. She is weeping. Not just crying – weeping. And her face is bent toward the ground and she is wiping tears as fast as they are falling.  Her tears get the attention of the man standing before her. The man who she seeks. The man she longs to say her final goodbyes to. The man she loved and who is now gone. And then something amazing happens. He says her name. 

“Mary.”

She knew that voice. She knew exactly who  it was that now  stood before her.
She lifted her head and cried out to him and obviously in her excitement, in her joy, she clings to him, for (an I can imagine a chuckle here from the Lord Almighty himself at her reaction) for he says to her, “Don’t hold onto me, for I have not returned to the Father yet…” 

Wait.

Did you catch that? Jesus hadn’t even returned heavenward yet and takes the time to meet with Mary in her grief. To show her there would not be a need for anymore tears. He was alive. She may have sought for him in her tears of sorrow, but he met her there in her pain and, speaking her name, turned her tears into tears of joy.
Are  you crying because of sorrow in you life? Weeping because of grief over  a lost loved one?  Listen. LIft your head. Your tears catch the attention of the Lord Almighty. And He is saying your name.

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. -Revelation 17:7

Listening and Staying

Something inside compelled me to stay. Was it really necessary to plant the smaller plants for this old woman? After all, she loved gardening just as much as I did and would love to be down there on her knees with me, bent over to face the dirt and let the earth crumble within her hands. But bend over she couldn’t do. So she sat in her plastic WalMart chair that has sustained all too many harsh summer rays, weathering its original, glossy sheen to a dull, dingey green.

She sat there, grateful and appreciative that someone would take the time to help her. She was more than willing to get her old rug and lay it on the grass so she could lay on her stomach and plant the zinnias I held in my hand. She would be more than happy to, but tomorrow would come and her back would be complaining to her all day about how it warned her to stop and accept the help.

I kept on until the last flower was planted, feeling torn to go home and yet, feeling as if I needed to stay. And as I covered that last zinnia with dirt, she stood.

“It’s been twelve years today since my son killed himself.”

I froze, the shovel still in the grip of my hand.

What do you say at a moment like that? To say, “I’m sorry” seemed so trite. I stood. And she continued.

She told how, as a young man he had had some hard knocks, then had served eight years in the Gulf War, only to come home to find his wife pregnant with a child by a friend of his. He couldn’t find a way out of the darkness and he took his own life. He was forty-four. 

The prime of his life, some might say. But – what is a prime time of life for some finds others in the worst circumstances they  ever imagined. Darkness consumes the soul and they can’t seem to find a way out other than to stop it’s deadly envasion by stopping it themselves.

She had spent the morning going through letters he had written, cards, mementos kept to keep memories alive and fresh. But on this day, twelve years after his death, she discarded those worn pieces of paper that kept sadness and heartache alive and fresh.

And so I stayed longer and we sat and talked about David. And the life he lived. And how hard it had been to lose him – one of your own children.

I cannot imagine. I don’t want to imagine.

The flowers were planted. It was quiet now as we sat there in those two plastic chairs.

“Can I do anything for you?” I asked.

What could I do? I couldn’t take away the pain. I couldn’t turn back time and wish someone could have stopped him and made him see how valuable he was, how his life mattered. How it would get better, even through the pain. What could I do? Yet, still I asked.

“No, I’ll be alright,” she said, a tear falling down her cheek. “What you’ve done means more than you’ll know. Now I can come out here and look at my beautiful flowers and smile.”

Little did I know that the woman sitting behind me, watching the dust of the earth being sifted through my hands, was reliving the heartache of the last twelve years in her lonely
world. Time may ease the pain, but it certainly doesn’t take away the pain.

I look out my window now and can see her watering her yard, just two houses down. I thank God that I listened to that still small voice that beckoned me to stay with her a while longer and finish planting the flowers that, in the midst of her sorrow, would bring a smile to her face.