For as long as she can remember, Scarlet Hiltibidal has been an anxiously-wired person. I’m not talking about the usual trepidation of making new friends at school or the fear of making the right fashion choices. Oh, no. In Afraid of All the Things, Scarlet speaks at length about her fear of tornadoes (and firenados—yes, they exist); death by random sinkholes; infectious diseases and exploding internal organs; and being away at length from the safety of cities that have easy access to hospitals and police, and the option of a quick escape from threats via the ubiquitous taxi.
The message that makes Scarlet’s book the kind that everyone should read is succinctly captured in the subtitle: Tornadoes, Cancer, Adoption, and Other Stuff You Need the Gospel For. We live in a world that is broken, and there are plenty of things to be afraid of. Some things—like sinkholes—many of us may never experience, but others—like death—will inevitably form part of all our stories. In Afraid of All the Things, Scarlet shares how she has learned to hold the gospel up to her fears. Through spending time searching through and soaking in the truths of Scripture, she’s learned to stand in the face of subjective worries and anxieties by standing on the objective truth of the saving, sustaining gospel of Jesus. What’s that truth? That there’s actually no need to fear because ultimately, we are in Christ, and we are as impossible to keep in a grave as he was.
The most profound part of Scarlet’s story is the journey of adopting her youngest daughter; a four-year-old orphan from China with numerous issues on top of being completely deaf, perhaps the most profound of which was having never been loved by a family. Through the miracle-working transformation of Scarlet’s heart by God, and with the loving support of a deaf church community, Scarlet now sees and shares the gospel in one of the most precious pictures possible; her beautiful adopted Joy. She writes:
I still feel fear and I still feel frustration and I still sin and struggle, but waking up to the face of my adopted daughter each day reminds me of my adoption through Christ. And that reality brings me to peace.
In this book, you will find more things to be afraid of than perhaps had ever crossed your mind. But you will also find a gospel that has hands, and feet, and a big heart that knows the forever truth that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:8). I absolutely love the way Scarlet takes stories from Scripture to remind us just how big God is, how much he is in complete control, and how—because of all this—knowing we are loved by him casts out all our fears.
By way of examples, Scarlet recounts the story of Jonah; a guy who was petrified of going where God would have him go. He got on a boat in the other direction, because he didn’t feel like God was big enough… until God made his point on the ocean. Scarlet captures the thought like this:
God, in his grace, was showing him “Hey . . . um . . . I’m literally in control of the universe, I can create a fish big enough to swallow you and then make him do it and you’re worried about obeying me?”
Then, when it came to Jesus calming the storm, she writes:
He [Jesus] didn’t even respond to his friends. Instead, he got up and talked to the deadly storm like it was an unruly toddler in the middle of a fit at Target. He said “Silence! Be Still!” (v.39). And the Bible tells us that the wind stopped and there was “a great calm.”
Immanent death. Three Words. Great Calm.
That’s the Jesus that afraid-of-all-the-things Scarlet has come to know and trust. Jesus the fear crusher. The death destroyer. The friend of sinners. The friend of fearers. The one who controls everything. The one who loves you. Perhaps you know of your propensity to give in to scary things; to twist even things that aren’t scary into writing a ‘worst case scenario’ list in your head. In Scarlet Hiltibidal’s words, you will find a compassionate friend who comes alongside and reminds you of Jesus. At no point does Jesus promise life with him will be free of tornadoes, cancer, or death; but he does promise his presence, and that is reason enough to no longer be afraid of all the things.