Loving Without Fear

The air conditioning in my new apartment was shutting down each time the temperatures outside went above ninety degrees. For four months, my landlord and the men who installed the unit tried in vain to fix the problem. They replaced parts, put in a new transformer, and tried everything they knew to try with no success. They asked me to send a text the next time the system shut down, so they could see what was going on when it wasn’t working. We were all getting frustrated, and I was giving up on a quick fix of any kind.

The system shut down again last week, so I sent a text and hoped for the best. The solution turned out to be a simple one that left all of us relieved and smiling. The door on the electrical box has a safety feature that shuts the power off if it’s opened while the breaker to the unit is on. The extreme heat was causing the cover on the door to expand and bow out. That created a tiny crack between the door and the box that shut down the system until the attic cooled down in the evening. The guys sealed the door shut with tape, and the system has worked perfectly ever since.

No one understands the danger of opening a door that should not be opened better than an electrician because their lives depend upon it. God used the repair to teach a powerful lesson. Opening a door that is best left shut can create havoc in my heart, as well. I’ve opened doors I should not have opened, and my heart has suffered as a result.

God provides safeguards that keep my heart from being hurt. I can override those safeguards and warnings, or I can seal off my heart the way those men sealed off the door in my air conditioning system. God and I both know that isn’t the best solution. It’s best to be mindful and heed the warning signs if I want to avoid being hurt. Like an electrician’s life, my heart’s safety is at stake if I don’t.

God will not seal the door to my heart, and He doesn’t want me to seal it either. There are no easy solutions when it comes to love, and no one understands that better than God. His lessons leave me feeling disconnected at times, but I know disconnection and differentiation go hand in hand. Change is never easy, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Like flying from one trapeze to the next, faith will carry me if I forget about fear and remember God’s love is there to catch me when I fall. That allows me to love without fear, and God knows that’s the only way to love.

1 John 4:18 says it much better than I can.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (NASB)

Photo Credit: US Hawks

Photo Credit: US Hawks

Victims and Villains

2 Samuel 11:1-15 is in the lectionary this week. The story of David and Bathsheba has been twisted and turned over the centuries, and I’ve struggled with it myself. Many see Bathsheba as a villainess who lured King David into a compromising situation. My early experiences with the church and my father’s opinion of women caused me to see David as an innocent victim seduced by a woman. My father had a famous saying he loved to repeat, “Water is the second most destructive force on earth.”

That begged the question, “What’s the first?”

He would smile and say, “Women!!”

My opinion of myself, and of women in general, was forged by my father’s opinions. I saw myself through his eyes for decades, but I’ve since learned to look through the lenses of my Father’s eyes to see the real me. Friends who see me as He does help with that process.

Six years ago, I was sitting in a Wednesday evening church service broken and confused. When I realized the topic for the evening’s Bible study was David and Bathsheba, my heart sank. I braced myself to hear the familiar tale of David’s demise caused by a wanton woman, but what I heard was something completely unexpected. There was something different about this message. I heard love in the story, and I didn’t hear the usual blame and judgment.

I listened intently as the familiar story was told honestly without vilifying or victimizing Bathsheba or David. I never realized Bathsheba was going through a purification ritual required of all women when their monthly menstrual cycle ended. Perhaps that aspect of the story was left out because it was deemed too sensitive for Sunday school or perhaps it didn’t fit the more convenient version. 2 Samuel 11:2-5 explains:

One late afternoon, David got up from taking his nap and was strolling on the roof of the palace. From his vantage point on the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was stunningly beautiful. David sent to ask about her, and was told, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite?” David sent his agents to get her. After she arrived, he went to bed with her. (This occurred during the time of “purification” following her period.) Then she returned home. Before long she realized she was pregnant. (The Message)

I remember feeling my heart relax as I listened to the story unfold. Some folks were not comfortable with this new version. An angry woman to my left barked, “She liked the attention!!”

A lady on my right saw David as the villain and said, “He was the king! She couldn’t say no!!”

I sat still in the middle and listened. God used that moment to remind me that His Word must pass through the filter of my heart. What I hear depends upon how much fear is in my filter. How close am I to the subject at hand? What’s going on in my own life that relates to the verses before me? How open am I to hear the truth? The scriptures came to life in a beautiful way that evening as I forgot about my fears for a moment and listened with an open heart.

I’ve set myself up as a victim many times during my journey because it’s a comfortable position that causes others to sympathize with and protect me. Attention is addictive, and being a victim is the surest way to get a fix.That isn’t what God wants for me. Hearing the story of David and Bathsheba in a new light made me see my own story in a new light. Only God knows what happened on that rooftop, and only God knows what is going on in my own heart. There is great tragedy in the story of David and Bathsheba, but there is also hope. God chose their son Solomon to do great things, and Christ’s own lineage traces back to David and Bathsheba. God will, indeed, use all things for my good if I yield to Him.

I imagine folks will always vilify Bathsheba. I recently heard a woman speaker make fun of a girl named Bathsheba during her message. She made the remark, “Who would name their daughter Bathsheba!!??”I sighed and thought it was no wonder women are seen as they are when even women perpetuate myths that cement negative thoughts and lay a false foundation beneath God’s precious Word. It is frustrating and heart-breaking to hear.

There have been many attempts to capture Bathsheba’s image over the years. Most show her as a seductive nude reclining on a bed. I prefer this one from the History Channel because it shows the restoration God made possible. Bathsheba was the love of David’s life, and their son went on to be a great king. David, Bathsheba, and Solomon were not perfect, but they loved God. Instead of making villains or victims out of them to suit our own hearts, I think it’s best to see the story as an example of God’s ability to restore in any circumstance. I think that’s the point of the story.

Photo Credit: The History Channel

Photo Credit: The History Channel

Wishdom or Wisdom?

I’ve preferred wishdom to wisdom most of my life because wisdom requires facing reality while wishing allows me to live in a fantasy world of my making. Snow White’s  “I’m Wishing” could be my theme song. I longed for someone to come along, wake my heart from its deep sleep, sweep me off my feet, and carry me into the sunset. As a child, I remember thinking I belonged somewhere other than where I was. I imagine my early experiences laid the foundation for fairy tale fantasies that flowed freely and followed me into my adult life.

I lived in a world of my own making as a child, a world of wishing. Wishdom was all the world wasn’t. I was safe and loved there, so I ran there when the world got to be too much for my heart to handle. Wishdom promises a happy ending as long as I endure and believe. Like Snow White, I put on a smile, wished, waited, and missed a lot of life.

Wisdom can be hard on the heart, but truth is tempered by love. The tempering may be uncomfortable at times, but its refining fire restores and reclaims. God’s Word is filled with powerful wisdom that often seems lost on those who claim to be Christians. It is too often picked over and pulled into pieces.  It’s easier to fight over God’s Word than live by it.

I wonder what Jesus would make of the titles Christian, Christ Follower, or whatever those who believe Him to be the Son of God choose to call themselves at any given time. I think Christ would prefer that we focus upon God’s love. He continuously pointed to God, the Father, and bid those following to do the same. John 13:3 says,

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God,” (NASB)

In Matthew 24:36, Jesus makes it clear that God is the One in control when He speaks of His own return.

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (NASB)

I do not begin to understand the Trinity and am very suspicious of anyone who says they do. I do know that Christians get lost in their labels and arguments. God is the source of all wisdom, and I am the source of all wishdom. God will let me dwell in whichever realm I desire. Wishdom is tempting because I don’t have to do anything but dream and sing and smile. Wisdom requires learning, growing, and going where He bids when I don’t understand.

The choice of where I dwell will always be mine. Wishing offers a wonderful place to lie down, look up, and wait; wisdom offers experience. The definition of wisdom is simply “the quality of having experience.” There’s nothing wrong with a little wishing as long as it stays in its proper place and doesn’t pretend to be wisdom or keep me from the experiences God has for me.

I'm WishingPhoto Credit: Disney

The Silly and the Sacred

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel God’s presence in my life, but I vividly recall a time in my life when I turned away from His presence. It was a time when I thought I deserved to be deprived of His love. I know how ridiculous that is now, but I didn’t know it then. I saw God as a smiter at worst and a disappointed Father at best. I’ve come to know Him as a loving Father who delights in me the same way I delight in my son and his sweet little girls.

I hear God’s voice and feel His presence most clearly outdoors. I love sunrises, sunsets, mountains, oceans, trees, creeks, and all of His beautiful creation. In sweet moments alone with Him,  I know I am loved. I even captured what looked like His reassuring smile last year when I cried out from a dark and lonely place. He brought me out of my self pity with a beautiful sunset in the midst of some very ominous clouds and made me laugh. I have always had a very vivid imagination, but I’ve never been able to capture any of the images I see. You may not see the smiling fellow looking back at me in the picture below, but the image was, and still is, crystal clear to me.

Sunset Watching Me

If I find myself surrounded by dark clouds, I think of a sunset when God reminded me that light is brightest in the darkest hours. I am not a theologian by any means, but I do know God has a beautiful sense of humor. I have experienced it on many occasions. He’s the Master when it comes to teaching, and all good teachers know that humor is a very effective teaching tool. I’m thankful for an imagination that runs from silly to sacred at any given moment. God provides images that make me laugh and ones that humble and bring me to my knees in awe.

Mama had an imagination much like mine and so does little Lillyann. I used to be ashamed of the way I processed information, and mama warned me over and over that I wasn’t like everyone else. That made me keep the images to myself for a long time. Now, I’m thankful to be different, and I hope I’ll teach Lilly and Mylah to celebrate their differences. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in a world that celebrated the same.

A Very Sweet Feeling

I was expecting to see a spectacular display of fireworks last night as the family gathered at Pepe and Meme’s house for their annual Fourth of July party. The view of town is amazing, and blue skies were promising to hold back the torrential rains long enough for our celebration. I took my vegetable trays and headed up the mountain. Traffic was terrible because the streets of our small town are simply not equipped to handle the volume of people who flood the downtown area to celebrate the Fourth of July.

I opted to take the back roads and made the two-mile trek in twenty minutes. I loved the party, but I was the only person there who had to come off the mountain after the firework display. I imagined it would take over an hour to get back to my apartment, so I decided it was best to head home early because I knew I would be able to see fireworks from my new apartment.

The drive home was much easier than the drive up the mountain, so I got home in plenty of time to catch the show. I looked over at the mountain from which I had just come and thanked God for my son and his sweet family. I wondered if I shouldn’t have stayed and not worried about the traffic. I noticed the parking lot beside my apartment was full of folks sitting on their cars, so the view promised to be a good one. The revelers were setting off their own little fireworks, and the kids were screaming with delight at each pop. When the big show started, I had to laugh. The fireworks appeared to be right in my front yard. I had the best seat in town and decided perhaps I should have hosted the party!

Today marks the sixth anniversary of mama’s death. I always think of her during the week of the Fourth because she gained independence from her pain on the fifth of July. I felt her presence in a powerful way last night. I saw her eyes as Mylah looked at Tyler when he threatened to take a bite of her apple pie. I saw her smile on Lilly’s face when she sat with Gina and ate her pie and ice cream. I felt her love when I looked at my son and thought of how very much I love him. I also knew mama was getting a kick out of the special show taking place right in front of me. I had some difficult lessons last week, and she knew I was experiencing a new kind of freedom myself, one that wasn’t easy on my heart. She and God knew the Fourth of July craziness was just the distraction I needed.

I’ve been in my new place for four months now, and I absolutely love it. I took this photo from Pepe’s porch  and love it because it beautifully captures Bryson City. The town captured my heart decades ago when I took a job at Alarka Elementary in 1976. The 120 students ranging in age from five to thirteen won my heart and made me feel right at home. I had so many wonderful students over the years, and they still make me feel at home. They have children and grandchildren of their own now and seeing my precious students, grand students, and great-grand students everywhere I go reminds me that I am completely surrounded by love. That’s a very sweet feeling!