Arms Open Wide: A Call to Linger in the Savior's Presence
In the introduction to ARMS OPEN WIDE, author Sherri Gragg tells of the moment she asked Jesus into her heart at the tender age of four. Gragg goes on to say that even though she loved God, her perception of His character was skewed. Over the next few dozen years, she pictured a vengeful, judgmental God and based her Christianity on being “good” instead of accepting His grace and embracing His acceptance. She feels that this flawed thinking basically stole the close relationship she could have had with a loving Father.
When she finally recognized her faulty thinking --- thanks to a trip to Israel when she was 41 years old --- Gragg says the shackles on her heart and mind loosened. She then began to research the scriptures more carefully. Soon after, ARMS OPEN WIDE was born.
"Whether read alone in the quiet stillness of the morning, or enjoyed together with the whole family at the dinner table, ARMS OPEN WIDE will engage your senses, stir your spirit, and may indeed make you long to linger in the Savior’s presence."
While this book, at first glance, may seem like a devotional, it’s really more of a creative and descriptive look at the heart of Jesus. Instead of devotional-style teaching, Gragg opts for fictional narrative based on her research. Each chapter offers an exquisite retelling of well-known (and some lesser known) Bible stories, with intricate details that capture the reader and breathe life to the characters we’ve perhaps read about many times before.
For example, one of the first stories she shares is titled “The Untouchable One” and is based on the woman with the issue of blood. How can one not be drawn into the following scene?
“By the window, she waits. Day after day, month after month, year after long year, she sits like a specter, invisible to the throngs of life passing by in the busy street just on the other side of her wall. She listens and watches, living vicariously through neighbors, relatives, and old friends who, one by one, have all but forgotten her.
She is the most hopeless of the hopeless. Impure. Unclean. Most certainly cursed by God for some secret sin.
She is condemned. She is the untouchable one.”
Most of us know the story, but Gragg touches on aspects we may never have considered before. Like what it was really like to be an outcast. How this woman must have felt to be judged and shunned for something out of her control. The hopelessness and despair. The woman’s desperation to be “whole and accepted” again. The hope ignited when she hears about Jesus, the healer. And the strength and courage she musters up to leave her home for the chance to be healed.
And the message most clear? A loving Jesus who wants to heal her. According to the scriptures, can’t help but heal her in response to her faith.
“The Untouchable One,” along with 30 more stories like it, is what makes up this beautiful collection. Some of the titles include “The Restorer Has Come: The Woman at the Well,” “Adulteress,” “The Centurion’s Servant,” “Unclean!” “Jesus Walks on Water,” “Peter’s Denial,” “Never Too Far: The Thief on the Cross” and “Thomas’s Doubt.” Chapters begin with a scripture --- most not taken from the actual story but from complementing verses --- and end with a heartfelt prayer.
Gragg is certainly a gifted writer, creating beautiful imagery and realistic scenes that demonstrate the love of Jesus.
Whether read alone in the quiet stillness of the morning, or enjoyed together with the whole family at the dinner table, ARMS OPEN WIDE will engage your senses, stir your spirit, and may indeed make you long to linger in the Savior’s presence.
Reviewed by Lynda Lee Schab on July 17, 2014