(Author's Note: This post was written and edited in June of 2014)
In the middle of my first summer trip, I sat on a bench bordering Lake Valentine and mano a Dios mano, hand to God-hand, tried to deal with my fear of flying. It had been a rough journey from Boston to Chicago to Minneapolis, and I needed to get all this irrational fear-of-flight out of my system before The Big Trip in July-the one that's now just a day away.
I stilled my mind, watched the wind make waves of the lake water, and I waited.
"Why would I hurt you?"
I thought I was the one asking questions.
But since He has asked, I rush to answer.
I don't know, God, why would You? Because You can. Because You are capable of anything. Because You see high and long, certainly not the near-sighted way that I do. Because You said it Yourself: My ways are higher than your ways. You don't see the divorce or the bitter ends to friendship or the isolated afternoons, or at least You don't see only those things. You are on the way to making all the above "beautiful". You take my hurt and turn it inside out for my good, so I cannot trust that there won't be soul crushing pain ahead on this road to some bigger, better, someday-you'll-understand place where Your glory dwells.
Things can be broken and beautiful all at once, so maybe this plane would crash. Maybe it would burst into flames at 30,000 feet, and that would be love somehow, in some awful, mysterious way.
That's what I say to God as the Minnesota sky goes dark and the lake wind whips my hair in front of my eyes.
On the return flight home, the pilot announces more unexpected turbulence, and I look out the tiny window. I push the plastic sheet up and watch the bright blue wing flail in the cross wind. Metal can flail. I didn't know that. I push the plastic back down.
Flying used to be a treat, a rare and special thing I prized, but different things are rare and special now. Being with my elementary school friends, eating dinner at home with my husband, hearing cries from my two new nephews born on the same day, walking slow and safe on this good earth. We hurdle what terrifies us in order to hold those precious things. I want to hold them, God; I don't want to crash on this plane.
We land on time and in one piece, but my faith stays in the clouds, circling above my life.
I come to Deuteronomy a few days later like a child who's done wrong, head hanging low. It was a random flip, probably on the way to Isaiah where my favorite prophecies live.
Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the LORD your God is God of gods and LORD of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
My mind jumps off the page and makes a few theological leaps about the nourishing root of the olive tree and the righteous shoot that is Christ and the Gentiles (like me) who are grafted into this tree and wham. I'm sitting at my kitchen table, overcome with the implication of these verses.
The LORD set his heart in love...chose Israel...chose us...chose me...as I am. This day.
The first truth is not that I was worthy, that I was brave, that I was fearless.
The first truth is that the LORD set his heart in love.
Love is what surprises me the most about God. And not just "I'll love you when I feel like it, when it fits in my schedule, when I think I can get a little love in return." Not the kind of spontaneous, self-centered affection that parades around as love in so many relationships, mine included.
It's premeditated, it's purposed, it's set firm in the very heart of God.
It's His love that I need it most, and His love that I understand least.
You know my love, He tells me. Which I do. There was a moment 6 years ago when God's love moved from abstract to concrete, when it became as real as my beating heart. To deny the truth of it would be as foolish as denying the birth of my newborn nephews.
So then, why would I hurt you?
I'm at a different lake a week or so later, this time smack-dab in the center of America, and as the sun swells and sets in a cocoon of orange, God offers me the inevitable choice: will I relent my covering, the stubborn walls around my heart that I think could protect me from all that is ugly and excruciating, or will I bring them down to receive love?
It is my choice to make, but He makes the choosing irresistible by asking for something no other master does: allowance.
Not perfection. Not posture. Not performance.
Just this: will I let Him come?
I remember Deuteronomy, and the story of one people that became through Christ the story of us all.
"Yet the LORD set his heart in love...as you are this day."
If context in Scripture matters to you like it does to me, lean in and listen close.
This promise, no, this statement about God's heart was made after Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive stone tablets written with the finger of God. Selah.
Do you remember what happens when he comes down?
Moses descends from the mountain to discover that the chosen people he's been called to lead took god into their own hands while he met God on the mountain. They cast their gold together and bowed down to a man-made calf instead of the God Who kept them waiting.
Save me, oh God, from the idol-making that fills the gaps of You.
I bring up the calf worship because I want to remind us of this: God's love made explicit in Deuteronomy was not an added blessing for the Israelites. It was not an accoutrement adorned onto the people who knew the best way to serve the Almighty. His love found them in their shame. In the wake of their Exodus disobedience, Moses repented, face down before God, trembling and afraid, and though He could destroy them, though to Him belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, God answered with love.
That story is slightly more profound than airplane turbulence, I know, and somehow that is even more of a comfort.
In the midst of my extreme and irrational fear of something so casual as an airplane flight, I can bring this to mind: Our God has gone to irrational, impossible, undeserved extremes to love us, just as you are this day.
Isaiah 11: 1-10
all quoted passages from the English Standard Version