What’s Better than Free?

Oberto jerky

Free stuff! Who doesn’t like it? Handouts at a workshop, nibbles at Costco, gas points at the grocery store–great! Bring it on. My daughters used to bag freebies in the hydroplane race pits at Seattle’s Seafair event every summer, and then hand the bags out to the people who bought a pit pass. The bags were full of beef jerky, stickers, key chains, coupons, lanyards, and maybe a toy hydro–whatever the Seafair sponsors were doling out that year–exciting stuff, right?

I’d usually find these beloved swag bags some months later while on cleaning expeditions under their bed–uneaten, unopened, unused, and possibly broken. We love Seafair, but the free stuff wasn’t that great.

When was the last time you got something for nothing that completely surpassed your expectations?

That happened to me this week. Somewhat skeptically, I stopped ignoring repeated emails from a free online continuing education program called EdX. Readers of this blog will know that I’m doing research for a historical novel, so you know I couldn’t pass up the course called “Visualizing Japan.” Part of the course covers the time period for my novel, and it is free, so why not?

What a treat! The course is great and led by three articulate professors from Harvard and MIT who provide very short (5 minute or less) video lectures. There’s a discussion board, beautifully depicted historical artifacts to look at, multiple choice questions and immediate feedback. It’s fun! The organizers say a single class might even have 100,000 students in it from all over the world.

Co-sponsored by Harvard, MIT, and a bunch of other well-known schools, the program’s mission is simply to “bring the best of higher education to students of all ages anywhere in the world, wherever there is internet access.”

Free. Excellent. Beautiful. Way above the call of duty for an institution of higher learning. I keep telling my husband, “I can’t figure out why they’re doing this. I mean, what’s in it for them?” (If you’re interested in checking out one of their 200 plus classes, you can find out more at http://www.edx.org. There’s one available now on school history for all you educators out there!)

Part of me feels ashamed when I reflect on this. How many times have I just done the minimum required of me? When, lately, have I gone above and beyond the call of duty just out of love for my family and friends, my school, my city, the world? I’d sure hate to give a really honest answer.

My husband lost a friend this week to cancer. Her husband wrote that he felt so privileged to be the main recipient of her unconditional love and attention. I never met her, but I want to be more like her.

More, to be exact, like Jesus.

Jesus Christ’s unconditional love for you and for me didn’t stop at even a cross. The apostle Paul prayed that we could simply begin to grasp how “wide and long and high and deep” the love is that Jesus has for us. He told the Ephesians that Jesus is able to “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:18-20).

Love that’s Free. Excellent. Beautiful. Way above the call of duty. May we try this week to give our love away to others who need us, just like Jesus does (and with his help).



About Sonja Anderson

I write novels and short stories for children, and occasionally a book or article for adults, too. I grew up in Ohio, and I have lived in Chicago, Connecticut, Boston, Tokyo, and Seattle. The beautiful Pacific Northwest inspires me every day.
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