Fearless Love

Today, on Valentine’s Day, I picked up an old “Magnolia Journal” which I have carried around in my book bag for nearly a year without taking the time to read. A big quote page drew me in. It asked: “If fear wasn’t part of the equation, how would your life look different?” The article, a short half page, was written by Chip Gaines. It’s no surprise that he would be encouraging the world to risk failure. In his funny antics he does it on most every episode of Fixer Upper—jumping off of precipices, bursting through walls, trying for the impossible basketball shot or attempting to pick up too-heavy objects. He lets his failures be fun and entertaining.

For me living from the “fear triad” of the Enneagram, “Failure” is a terrifying word—something to be avoided at all costs.  Something primal in me tells me, though I wouldn’t usually acknowledge it, that if I fail in an attempt, I am the failure.  Of course, I know that isn’t correct, but it is my default modus operandi as I approach life.

“Fear-less”[i] is the name of Chip’s article and, as a wordsmith, I love the twist of turning an adjective into a verb-adverb and thus to receive a subtle shift in paradigm.  This is exemplified again in Chip’s statement: “The courage to take your shot is half the battle.  The other half?  Viewing failure as a teacher and not an enemy.”

Risk, courage, and potential failure arise continually.  Valentine’s Day is a day of risk:

Sending a Valentine

Asking for a date

Saying “Yes” to an invitation to a date

Saying no to an invite

Getting married

Not getting married

Loving anyone

Not loving anyone

Setting Boundaries

Holding on

Letting go

Initiating a Friendship

Watching the winter Olympics I’m always amazed at the number of courageous athletes.  Really what they’re doing over and over and over is risking failure.  Of all the competitors, what are the odds of getting the gold?  And even for the medal winners, they are up on the podium only because they’ve allowed failure to teach them through multiple previous failed attempts at their sport.

Now my rational mind immediately can bring up exceptions to fearlessness such as when the consequences of failure are grave.  As mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal pointed out in his “wager” that it is staggeringly more risky not to believe in God than to believe in him: “I would have far more fear of being mistaken and of finding that the Christian religion was true, than of not being mistaken in believing it true.”[ii]  This is not the kind of fearlessness I choose to embrace.

On the other hand, yearly, monthly, daily I make decisions not to risk.  I choose “safe” often over living life to the fullest, over fearing the possibility of failure, and in doing so I miss opportunities, adventure, and even life lessons.  I know that:

            The sun still shines—after I fail.

            People still love me—after I fail.

            I love myself—after I fail.

            God loves me—after I fail.

I really like the book of Proverbs of the Bible.  I’m re-reading it now in The Message[iii] and seeing passages with new eyes, hearing with new ears.  Proverbs comes right up to us and tells us to Fear!  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom….” (Proverbs 9:10, NIV) The Message puts it this way: “Skilled living gets its start in the Fear-of-God….”  But the same book of Proverbs also tells us to be bold and risk everything to find wisdom.  “Sell everything and buy Wisdom.  Forage for Understanding…Above all and before all, do this: Get Wisdom!”  As Blaise Pascal alluded to—there is big risk in not choosing God.  The God of love, peace, grace, and mercy gives us a choice.  Fear of God or Denial of God.  “Lady Wisdom” asks to be our filter—our first filter on whether to risk or what to risk.  The fear-of-God need be our main fear— “bowing down to God”; “paying attention” to God: “Lady Wisdom will be your close friend, and Brother Knowledge your pleasant companion.  Good Sense will scout ahead for danger.  Insight will keep an eye out for you.  They’ll keep you from making wrong turns….”  They’ll keep you from risking what shouldn’t be risked.  “Carelessness kills; complacency is murder.  First pay attention to me, and then relax.  Now you can take it easy—you’re in good hands.”[iv] 

For some of us predisposed to fear, we hear the first part of that verse but forget the 2nd.  We—I—forget the part about, “then relax.  Now you can take it easy—you’re in good hands.”

Living life is taking risks. Living, abiding in, dwelling in safety by choosing to climb up into the lap, the embrace, the love of God, frees us to relax–frees us to walk forward fearlessly toward joy and peace, beauty, fun and adventure, and yes, even walk forward through failure and loss—because we can choose not to ever risk letting go of the One who is Love and the Love will not let go of us.[v]


[i] Magnolia Journal, A Look at Risk, Summer 2021, page 116-117

[ii] Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 241

[iii] God, Eugene Peterson, The Message, translation of The Bible

[iv] Excerpts from The Message, Proverbs

[v] Romans 8:35-39

Advent

Photo of our Jessamine farm front yard on the first snow of 2020

Hule and I have decided to do more this year for Advent. That’s new for me. Lent had been new for me the last few years: not the concept of Lent—just the idea that it’s more than the horrific prospect of no chocolate for 40 days! In a similar way, the concept of Advent is not new to me, it has just mostly been a time for slick purple and pink candles in crunchy Styrofoam wreaths, opening little calendar doors each day, a countdown of shopping days ‘till presents, cookie baking and tree decorating. So, being a virtual “nubie” at Advent and an information junkie—I went to the stacks. (Thank you Richland County Public Library.)

I checked out about a dozen books on Advent and have been reading the Advent Lessons and Carols Scriptures for this year: Genesis 2 & 3, Isaiah 7 & 53, Luke 1 & 2, Hebrews 1 and John 1. I’m finding that Advent is a time of waiting for the Messiah—the fruition of all of the Messianic promises. Wait, Prepare, Rejoice, Love are the 4 “watchwords”.[1] This week is about waiting. Ireton informed me that: “In Hebrew, the word for wait is also the word for hope.” (Ireton 2008, 22)

Hope has been one of my special words lately–one I’ve thought about a lot. Hope=Esperanza in Spanish; the name I would give myself if I could rename me. It seems there are two kinds of hope. One is a hope in people: fallible humans. This hope is less sure. This hope has the capability of disappointing. “I hope he will do what he said.” “I hope she will make it.” It implies some sort of trust, some kind of vulnerability, but the open-endedness of not being certain. Secondly there is hope in God. If we cannot hope in God, in whom can we hope? This is a more certain hope—a hope that does not disappoint. Here, once one believes God is true and good and all-powerful, then hope feels more like waiting, and our hope is in that we heard his promise correctly, discerned rightly, what he meant when he said in Isaiah (about 735 years before Christ came[2]): Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. In Isaiah 7:14b Immanuel means God with us. God doesn’t mind making us hope a long time—wait for many years. Just as we wait now for Christ’s second coming! And so, part of Advent is to put myself back in that time between 735 B.C. and C.

C=Christ is here!!! Christmas!! Wahoo!!!

I’ll have to admit that it takes a little pretending to wait—hope—for the Messiah when I know he has already come. It’s like Good Friday when we mourn for Christ’s death but we really know he will rise again. I guess it’s also like watching a really sad movie the 2nd time around: crying, hoping, fingernail biting is not the same when you know it will end well.

And so this week, I wait… I hope… for GOD WITH US!!!


[1]Ireton, Kimberlee Conway. The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2008.
[2] Thank you ESV Study Bible

The writing above is from a 2011 post on a previous blog that I wrote when I was newly worshipping with the liturgical calendar in “the Anglican way”…

Stay at Home Orders

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I slept late this morning.  Night before last I barely slept.  During this time of Covid-19 and “Stay at Home” orders all structure has been thrown out the window.

Actually what I have now is what I long for often–long periods of time alone to read and pray and journal…and drink coffee; less biddings to go and do, less social necessities, a monk-like/nun-like existence: Ora et Labora, Ora et Labora.  That is it mostly.

My evangelical Christian worldview brings guilt that I need to be out there spreading the word, helping people.  Indeed that is what Jesus and the disciples did.  They didn’t hole up and stay in caves praying–quarantining.  They didn’t even stay in one place like the desert mothers and fathers, or in a monastery or Christian commune, and let others come to them (except maybe some like John who was exiled to Patmos and Paul in prison).

But I am not Jesus nor His first century disciple.  The early church had a mix of calls for each person according to their gifts–according to what “body part” they were, according to their unique vocation.  And this pandemic time is a unique, likely, temporal time too.

My very good friend, Jan Kaneft, is the Archdeacon at Church of the Apostles in Columbia, SC.  She wrote a devotional during this time that really spoke to me.  I include it below:

SCRIPTURE: The LORD your God is in your midst, a Mighty One who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
THOUGHT: Last week we ZOOMED with dear friends in North Carolina. Almost immediately, the conversation centered upon our grandchildren, a common occurrence with grandparents. Bill, our friend, laughingly described his new garden apprentice-his three-year-old grandson.
He loves to help me feed the birds. We end up with more seeds on the ground than in the feeder. It’s always messy. It would be easier and much quicker to do it myself, but I just love being with him.
He went on to say, Time spent with my grandson reminds me of what our relationship with Jesus is all about-He doesn’t need us; He wants us.
The prophet, Zephaniah, proclaims a similar message to the Israelites in Judah. God, the covenant keeper, initiates with His people a call back to relationship. He is faithful even when His children are making messes of their lives. He blesses with His presence because He delights in His people. Pure and simple, He just loves being with us.
Locked in the constraints of COVID-19, much of our activity has been curtailed. Has this restraint unveiled a fear inside that busyness has kept buried: does God really love me? Many of us believe that we are required to achieve something to prove to God and to the world that we are worth loving. In other words, what we do engages His love. The doing can become a lifeline to our significance, affirmation, security, acceptance—our value. It is difficult for us to believe that He just wants us. If this is your struggle, let the words of Zephaniah remind and encourage you today: God rejoices over you with gladness. God quiets you with His love. God exults over you with loud singing. Friends, He doesn’t need us; He wants us.

First, this includes one of my favorite Scriptures–Zechariah 3:17. This reminds me–We are/I am not socially distanced from God!  He’s in my midst.  He’s here.

And, as Jan reminded me, He loves me more than I love my grandchildren, Hazel and Julian, from whom we’ve been “socially distancing”.  And He wants to be with me more than Hule and I long to be with Hazel and Julian.  Wow!  That’s a lot.  Being around them, distancing 6 feet away and outside, and not getting to hold them was excruciating.  So I’m asking myself:

Do I distance myself from You, God?

Not going all the way to embrace You and sit on Your lap and be quieted by Your love?

Receive Your cheek kisses?

Hear Your ho-ho-ho; Your songs and shouts of joy and gladness over me?

I watched yesterday as Hule previewed a new video just sent of the grandkids.  Hule’s face was priceless–rejoicing over, smiling deep, deep face furrows of joy watching their every move.

God, if You indeed, rejoice over us–over me–in that way, it is an amazing privilege.  I want to acknowledge and soak it in.  I want to live seated in Your lap, in Your embrace, surrounded and covered with Your love and never let the wetness of Your kisses on my cheek evaporate.

Once again I’m reminded of another of my life Scriptures: Romans 8:38 & 39.

What can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus?

Not coronavirus

Not social distancing

Not job insecurity

Not economic catastrophe

Not sickness or even death

Nothing

This incomprehensible, unbelievable, ever-present love of God is the eternal foundation of life!

Covid-19 from the farm

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I began the morning while it was still dark–6:30ish a.m.

A quiet house

Heating blanket on

Furnace catching up from nighttime turn down to morning turn up

67 to 72 degrees

No coffee yet

Papers shuffled

Nest made

Bible at side…waiting

Candle lit

A week ahead

The new way…

Last week I was “off” from babysitting because it was my daughter’s spring break; but the whole world is shuttering now for the novel coronavirus–isolation, lockdown, shelter in place….  On Wilmore Anglican Church’s Sunday morning sermon Facebook feed, Hule echoed musings by Andy Crouch who was referencing Osterholm, an infectious disease specialist, asking:  Is this a blizzard? a winter? or an ice age? We went into this thinking–a blizzard–just a few weeks.  Now it’s apparent it will be at least a winter.  But with political stalemates and the tenacity of those numbers and climbing curve, and the falling stock market, we are all wondering if it’s ushering in a new metaphorical ice age.

Lord, You are in control and You are good!  Hule’s quote of “Granny Rene” is right:

“God is God.  God is good.  And God loves us!”  This is what we know.

But God, what are you up to?

I am reading the Old Testament book of Job.  What God was up to in Job was not apparent to Job’s children, his employees, his country, his wife, his friends–not even to Job; but from heaven’s perspective it was made clear.  In human eyes we might say, “That’s not fair!”  “I don’t get it!”  But God is God.  His ways don’t have to be explained or justified.  He is sovereign.  We are not equipped to push back the works of God, or meant to question them.  God allows Satan, with limits, to seemingly wreak havoc at times for His own purposes.  Jesus himself experienced that:

His corona–His crown–His thorny, blood-stained crown, because God loves us;

His isolation and His own body shut-up, quarantined–in a cave, a tomb,

While hell was harrowed.

And Job lost it all:  his livelihood; his house and farm; his children and his wealth.  When he faced the sudden calamity, the sudden blizzard, he said:

Naked came I from the womb

Naked shall I return.

The Lord it is who gives

and the Lord takes away.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

And “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”  God is good.

Then entered winter.

Satan was given even more permission and Job’s body was ravaged.  Was it a novel virus that was unleashed on him?  His wife told him to “curse God and die.”  And Job said, “Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?”  “And in all this Job did not sin with his lips.”  When we never acknowledged that it was the Lord who gave and it was the Lord who provided good all along–when we think it was our own goodness that brought it about—besides being extremely blind and arrogant–we don’t know what we don’t know.

How is it that we believe so often that we create the good but it is God who brings the bad?  And how is it that we believe it’s all about us?  That our purposes are at the center instead of God’s purposes?  Do we fault God for acting like God?  …for putting His purposes above our own?

The suddenness of Job’s losses brought on a stunning: a sitting together on the ground in silence together for 7 days before a word was uttered.  A 7 day silence.  7 days of ground-sitting together before a word was spoken.  Something gigantic is there–something absent from our culture; a language few of us speak!  A practice foreign to our list of possibilities: sitting together 7 days in utter silence.

Be still and know that I am God

Be still and know that I am

Be still and know that I

Be still and know that

Be still and know

Be still and

Be still

Be…

It’s that empty, wordless nothingness–

Silence

Stillness

No raging

No questioning

No figuring out

No philosophizing

No doctoring

No leading

No consulting

No data collecting

But sitting still with the circumstance together with a few friends in wordlessness–on the ground:

We are but dust and to dust we will return.

Naked came we–Naked shall we return–Blessed be the name of the Lord!

This is part of practicing Lent.

And what we always know is:

God is God.

God is good.

God loves us.