Shattered Illusions | Throwing Dishes at God, Part 2

Photo by Nichole Q Perreault

Read Throwing Dishes at God Part 1here. 

How long can one throw dishes at God?

Well, longer than you might think. Just ask Job. Or Peter. (FYI: This post is going to make a lot more sense if you read Part 1.) I guess the simplest answer would be: as long as it takes. Because He isn’t going anywhere.

To be honest, though, I didn’t know that at the time. Whenever I was in a full-blooded rage, I kept one eye on the sky for incoming bolts of lightning and the other on the earth lest it swallow this foul-mouthed, ungrateful child whole.

Yet, because of His great mercy and love, none of that happened.

He never swallowed me up or struck me down. He never shut me up or shut me down. Rather, He let me stay in the fight. And He stayed in the fight with me. The brokenness and depravity of the human heart does not and cannot shock God. He’s seen it all. And He loves us anyway.

Flickers of Light

Often times, during this season, opening my Bible felt like trying to lift Thor’s hammer. When I did muster the strength, the verses, once as refreshing as a cool drink of water, became like dry sand in my mouth. But by God’s grace, I would occasionally stumble on scriptures that glowed like a balefire of hope. Continue reading

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Throwing Dishes at God | Part 1

Two years ago, on a misty morning beneath a wooden cross, God spoke to me. He said, “Don’t crucify me again, Nichole. Don’t remake me in the image of your pain.”

How thin the line, if there is one, between warning and prophecy.

At the time, I was in awe, and grateful for a God who knew my tendency would be to run, to divide myself from Him, to define His boundaries according to the edges of my agony.

I thought, What mercy! Thank you for reminding me that when I deny who you are, I harm myself. Surely, now, I will do no such thing!

I recalled the story where Jesus warned Peter, “Before the rooster crows, three times you will deny me.” Peter insisted, “I will never deny you!” and yet Peter denied Him indeed. How relieved I was that God had protected me from such a fate…that He had revealed the traps ahead and that I had responded with a humble heart. 

Are you laughing? I am. At least, when I’m not crying.

Continue reading

Suspended | Poetry Under a Bridge

This summer, we discovered that we could walk under the northern end of the Golden Gate bridge. The area is basically a construction zone (retrofitting the bridge for earthquake durability) so not many people venture down there. Standing with my family beneath the bridge, the thunderous sound of cars and trucks barreling over our heads, nothing but a chainlink fence to stop us from falling… it was all kind of terrifying but, you know, in an exhilarating sort of way. Later that night, as I scrolled through my photos, I thought this one captured the magnificence and desolation, glory and isolation, of that place…and of my heart…which in the end became a poem. (To my friends who already saw this on social media a few weeks ago: sorry for the repeat, just getting round to posting on my blog now.)

Taken with my iPhone 6 beneath the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge

Suspended 

Under a bridge
With the weight of a thousand worlds rolling over me
Tires banging
Engines rumbling
The earth beneath us cold and crumbling
I hide
Finding comfort in the fear
Of a forgotten place
Neglected
Unadorned, the loneliness of hearts reflected
Like eyes
That can’t unsee the desolation
Of the days
The suffocation of her blazing fire
Here
Behind the chains
Looking out at what I cannot cross
Feels an awful lot
Like home

©Nichole Q Perreault

Every Day | When Grief Lasts and Hope Remains

I AM THAT CAT
We used to have two cats, Pink and Sabrina. They were brothers, which isn’t obvious from their names. That’s what happens when you let your four-year-old and her best friend name your kittens.

Pink was a super-sized, black tuxedo who acted an awful lot like a dog. Sabrina was a smaller, gray version of Pink, and he snored like something akin to a chainsaw. Like most brothers, they played and they fought and they cuddled when sleepy.

One day, when they were about five years old, Pink and Sabrina (both indoor cats) escaped into the great wide open. Pink came home. Sabrina never did.

We were terribly worried and sad, but no one more than Pink. Every day, the burly cat would climb in an open window or press his nose against our screen door and call for Sabrina. His was a heartbreaking cry and you knew, you just knew, his meows meant, “Where are you? I’m still here. Come home. I miss you. Come home! I’m waiting!”

This went on for two years. For two years, Pink called and cried for his brother. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised – those kitties were together every single day of their lives. I imagine Pink felt as though he’d lost not just his brother, but a part of himself.

I am that cat.

Two years after my baby brother’s death, my soul still cries, “Where are you! I’m here. I miss you. Come home! I’m waiting!”

Just about everyone’s favorite picture of Derek

Like Pink, I expect my brother to come walking up the driveway at any moment – to tell me a funny story about his son or to ask me if I saw that great play Dustin Pedroia made in last night’s game.

THE WISDOM OF FRIENDS
I’m so grateful for two honest women who, in the weeks following my brother’s death, were kind enough to spare me the usual platitudes and instead told me the bald truth:

“No matter what anyone says, it doesn’t get easier, we just learn to cope better…”

I needed to hear those words. Sure, I’d lost people before – Kenny (Derek’s father and my stepfather who was like a father to me, died when I was 12 and Derek was two), grandparents who helped raise me, uncles and aunts and friends – so on some level, I knew their words were true. But I needed to hear them anyway. I needed to know that it’s ok that I’ll never be ok with this loss.

Proof for middle-school girls that there is hope…you will not always look this awkward. I promise.

In some ways, all losses are the same – you grieve for what you can’t have. But in other ways, each loss is different. The loss of a parent triggers life-altering insecurity – Who will take care of me? Who will love me unconditionally? Who will show me how to do this thing called life? While the loss of a friend slaps us awake to our own mortality and robs us of one of the few relationships that isn’t dictated by birth or marrying into a family, but is instead chosen.

Losing my brother, though, has been much more like losing a part of myself, as if someone carved a giant chunk of flesh out of my side. My brother was mine and I was his. He was my equal, my side-by-side, my co-conspirator in the unique craziness that is our family and no one else’s.

Ryan, Derek & me (Only God can put a family like this together!)

Like most siblings, we shared a sort of secret language of eye-rolls and smirks and headshakes. 

And even though we weren’t always together, it’s as if he was somehow, in every moment, standing right next to me. I knew he was there, just a phone call or short drive or the next holiday away. Only now he’s not.

And I am that cat.

The day following Derek’s death, I told my mom, “Now every day is a day he gets further and further away from me.”

My friends were right. Life hasn’t gotten any easier. In many ways, it’s harder.

Because now it’s been two years since I’ve heard his laugh…
two years since I’ve looked into those seawater eyes…
two years since we’ve watched a ball game together…
two years since he’s cracked a joke and made me laugh until I cry…
two years since I’ve held his hand, since we’ve played Wheel of Fortune, since he’s smothered me in a bear hug, since I’ve told him I love him.

I miss him now more than ever.

And I am that stupid cat crying in the window.

A STILL SMALL VOICE
Eventually, Pink stopped calling for Sabrina. Did he grow tired of trying? Did his broken heart figure out that Sabrina wasn’t coming home? Did he simply forget?

I’ve thought about this a lot lately: How long will my broken heart search for the missing piece? How many times must I tell myself Derek’s really gone? Will I become accustomed to life without him? Do I want to?

I worry, as I walk into a future without Derek, that I’m losing him again, that he’s growing smaller and smaller out on the horizon’s edge, and as the light and dust and distance obscure my vision, I fear that soon, he will disappear altogether. In those moments, the black abyss rushes at me and the hollow wind steals my breath and the air thick with emptiness presses down and… will the losing never end?!

Lashed by storms of grief and not comforted, I am a city in ruins.

But lately, in the midst of those ruins, when the silence settles like clear, fresh air, there is something else…a still, small voice…a voice that whispers to my soul:

Every day, every day, every day that passes,
every day that Derek gets further away from you,
every day is one day you get closer to seeing him again.
So don’t worry little one,
for while you are weeping at the door,
your brother calls to you:
“I’m right here. Don’t worry about me.
I’m already home.
And I’ll be right here, waiting for you,
every day.”

I am that cat crying at the door. But my brother waits for me. I am a city in ruins. But I am being rebuilt. Every day.

I love you baby brother. More than words can say. 


p.s. I’m about 99% sure that the next time I see Derek he is going to rank on me mercilessly for comparing our relationships to my cats. “I am that cat, Nichole? Really? That’s the line you went with? (followed by his high-pitched giggle)” Obviously, he won’t be swearing because we’ll be in heaven and all.

© Nichole Q Perreault

Uncomfortably Speaking | Writing with Purpose

A friend sent me this a few weeks ago:

 

 

 

 

 
She gets me. (She’s also a total rock star but that’s beside the point.)

I’m no Ernest Hemingway, but I’ve etched my pain all over the pages of this blog. Hard and clear. Ugly. Scary-to-look-at. And oh, so very uncomfortable. For you. And for me.

When I share my writing with anyone, it’s like giving them a piece of myself:

Hello there. I’d like to share my art with you, which is a risk, because you may hate and reject it. Or even worse, you may hate and reject me. But let me show you anyway…let me show you my deepest thoughts and greatest fears, my hopes and dreams, my shame and guilt and failures…open your hand…yes, there…perfect. Here’s my heart, my very soul. I hope you take good care of it.

That’s how I feel every time I click “Publish”. And yet I keep publishing.

Why?, you ask. Ummmm…because God tells me to? (Insert hiding monkey emoji)

If ever there was a time for the term “cray-cray” this is it, right? Oh, she cray, alright. Or maybe she’s just arrogant? Presumptuous? I get it. Believe me I do.

And yet, that’s the truth. God has called me to speak, to share and to write. So I do. Even when I’m reluctant or embarrassed or downright terrified.

There’s a quote by the famous runner, Eric Liddell: “God made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.”

Well, I do NOT relate to that. At. All. When I run, the only thing I feel about God is that with every step and every gasp I’m getting closer and closer to meeting Him face-to-face. Maybe that should make me love running. But mostly, I hate running. If you see me running, you should join me, because I am probably fleeing a wild animal, a ravenous zombie or an apocalyptic disaster of some kind.

So, while I don’t know exactly how Mr. Liddell felt, I do know this: God gifted me to write. When I write, God reveals the truth to me…the truth about Himself, about others, about me. And in those moments, I feel His pleasure.

I can already hear the gears in those big brains of yours, clicking and cranking…just like mine would if I were reading this. You’re thinking, “Wait a minute. Does she think she has a free pass to write whatever she wants? Is she saying that she never makes mistakes? That her word is as good as God’s?”

Well, of course not! Geez. (Could you see my eye-roll from there? Sorry. Reflex. Those are good questions to ask.)

What I am saying is that I write on purpose. I choose my words carefully and prayerfully. There is a method to my madness. And it looks something like this:

Continue reading

Just Mending | Thoughts on Women in Church Leadership

UNEXPECTED MESSAGE

Yesterday, while working my way through three different books about women in the Church, I needed a bookmark. Opening the drawer of our end table, I found a slip of 2” x 8.5” paper – something a neighbor dropped off to promote her sewing business. “Just Mending” it reads at the top. “Do you have clothes that need repair?”

I hesitated. It’s not really a bookmark. What if I lose this thing? I’ll never be able to replace that broken zipper on my Uggs. Does she even repair Uggs? Uggs aren’t clothes – they’re boots. Seriously, Nichole, are you ever going to call this lady anyway? But…

And then I read the title again, “Just Mending”. God speaks to us in the most unexpected ways, doesn’t He?

I folded the slip of paper in half and placed it in Chapter 1 of Jo Saxton’s More than Enchanting. Then I piled all the books together just so and took this lovely photo for you:Reading these books has been like walking along the ocean’s edge. Sometimes the waters lap at my toes and ankles. Other times, the waves crash into me, soaking my legs, knocking me off balance. I stumble as the sand sucks at my feet, and flail my arms to steady myself.

Anyone who’s spent a day at the beach knows that the sun, the sand and the waves work a sort of magic on your mind and body…leaving you somehow relaxed, revived and exhausted, all at once.

The words of these books, the stories, wisdom, reassurances and revelations, crash over me, wave after wave. Sometimes gentle. Sometimes startling

The emotions vary, ranging from joy to sadness to anger to regret to hope, but the feeling that most surprises me is what I can only describe as a sort of comfort. I’m not talking about a warm-hugs-fuzzy-blanket-hot-cup-of-tea kind of comfort. No. I’m talking about a heart-breaking-open, pain-spilling-out, poison-leaving-your-body, soothing-truth kind of comfort. I can literally feel the Lord’s truth rushing in…the lies, the hurt, the pain rushing out.

Thousands of years since the fall, thousands more since the resurrection of Christ, decades since I started following Him, and God is still flushing the poison from my veins.

The sensation, at times, overwhelms. I did not expect this.

AN ITCH I COULDN’T SCRATCH

Growing up, I had very little exposure to church or Christian culture. I became a believer as a teenager, simply because I was desperate for Jesus. I doubted so much – God’s goodness, the existence of heaven, the reliability of the Bible.

But there was one thing I knew for sure: Jesus.
When I could hardly breathe, Jesus.
When I was paralyzed with fear, Jesus.
When I was lonely, Jesus.
When I was condemned, Jesus.
When I was hopeless, Jesus.

“Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief,” became my daily prayer. He has answered faithfully.

By some blessed miracle, God revealed to me that understanding and even agreeing with everything in the Bible, are not prerequisites for following Jesus. So I entrusted my doubts to Him and have been walking in the dust of the Rabbi ever since.

I acclimated to Christian culture slowly, very slowly. (I think I’m still acclimating.) One thing I’ve wrestled with for a long time is the role of women in the Church.

I love our church. It has been, for many years, our home, our family. Our church’s people are my people, our hearts tethered to one another by the Spirit of God. And my church is filled with strong, gifted, Jesus-loving women who lead in more ways than I know.

Women are not, however, free to teach authoritatively at our house of worship. While many churches hold to that belief, they can each apply it differently. For us, it means that women cannot serve as elders (our governing board) or teach from the platform (pulpit). Seems simple but it gets a little weird when you think too hard about it. What is “teaching” exactly? Is it only when you “exegete”? Why can a woman share a brief message, a song she wrote or her testimony from the platform? What if a woman writes something that someone else reads from the platform? When, exactly, does God’s truth have less or no authority?

This confused me, but I saw the hearts of the people at this church, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit there, so I entrusted to the Lord my doubts about their position on women in the church. And just kept following Jesus.

Over the years, moving through various lay ministry and staff positions, I have not reached a place of peace about this issue. Even though I have never longed to be an elder or a pastor, even though I have never felt compelled to teach a congregation, it niggled at me, like an itch I could never quite scratch.

As a “strong” woman, with “strong” opinions and a “loud” voice, I have been known to upset an elder or two. I have asked tough questions and said hard things and been accused of being “disrespectful”. And I have wrestled with what this means. Am I wrong? Should I be meeker? Quieter? Is disagreeing with my brother, elder or not, disrespectful? Or is it a healthy conversation that may provide an alternative perspective for consideration? Does God want me to sit down and shut up?

Well, He wants all of us to sit down and shut up sometimes! But not always. I know because I find myself begging Him, Really God? Really? You want me to go and say that? Again? Isn’t there anyone else? And He answers, “Go.”

So I go. Remembering that I don’t have to understand every Biblical passage or agree with all-things-Christian-culture to follow Jesus. A little unsure and afraid, but holding Jesus’s hand, I go.

WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGED

Then last year, everything changed. As my readers already know, my family was wounded by a conflict at church that deeply affected our daughters, my husband and me.

It pains me to say that some of our church’s male leadership played a significant role in this conflict. Pains me because these men are our brothers, our co-laborers, our friends. They love the Lord and want to do what’s right and good. We love them. And, I believe, they love us, too. I do not want you to worry about the who or what or why or how. Know this: as in any conflict, we all made mistakes, and those involved have exhibited good intentions, concern, accountability, humility and grace. If you must do something, do this: mourn with us, lament for what’s been lost, weep for the brokenness of Christ’s Church and the disunity of His people. And pray for God to restore what the locusts have eaten.

I am sharing our story so that you will more clearly see this: We desperately needed women leaders to help resolve this conflict and to address the consequences that followed. But this didn’t happen…at first…

The hearts of women were central to this conflict. And male leadership was a significant part of the conflict. Add to this the fact that I am on staff, and the circle of involvement gets a little funky. In following the steps for Biblical conflict resolution, when it came time to involve another individual, we couldn’t reach out to a friend or lay leader. To protect the church and all involved, we needed to go straight to the leadership. And all the leadership is male.

We underestimated just how insufficient that would be. After a few weeks, I observed that we had to really work to help men understand the problems, but if I said three sentences about the issue to my mother or our women’s ministry director, they understood instantly. Women did provide support briefly, for specific reasons, but any momentum was quickly lost when their part was finished. Still, I wasn’t ready to accept that male leadership alone was inadequate. So I continued to walk the exhausting, precarious tightrope between advocating and submitting.

We asked God to resolve the situation. He didn’t. We asked God to release us and let us walk away. He didn’t. After nine long months, the situation had grown, its tentacles far beyond our family’s reach. That was when God gave us permission to let go. Not to leave, but to lay it down.

A couple of weeks later, two women in the church picked it up. When I told one of them that I didn’t want her to think we were giving up, she said, “Maybe it’s time for you to let others do the heavy lifting for a while.”

With a strength only God could have provided, these women leaned into the heavy boulder of the consequences of this conflict and began to move forward.

Because of these women, some things began to change. Not because the men were unfit, but because, in this situation, they were incomplete. This issue involved the hearts, minds and lives of men and women. To address the issue completely, we needed men and women to lead.

My gratitude to these women is best described by the tears welling up as I write. Perhaps take a moment to thank God for them, for how they have worked diligently, faithfully and passionately for our church family to the glory of God.

JUST MENDING

This experience has caused me to actively seek answers to my nagging questions about the role of women in the Church. As I feast on books like Jesus Feminist, and How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership, and More than Enchanting, I find that, like Ruth Haley Burton, I have not changed my mind about women in leadership but instead “I finally let myself believe something I had always known.” (How I Changed my Mind About Women in Leadership, p35)

That women are fully equal to men and should be fully free to serve God however He calls them. The body of Christ, and the world we seek to reach for Jesus, will be better for it.

As I continue to be overcome with many emotions, I find myself anxiously asking, What has this done to my daughters? What kind of changes do I need to make in my life? Who do I tell? What should I do? And on and on…

But then I look at my makeshift bookmark that reads “Just Mending” and I’m reminded of the heart-breaking-open, pain-spilling-out, poison-leaving-my-body, soothing-truth comfort that feels a lot like healing.

And I hear God say, Don’t worry about that, Nichole. Right now, we’re just mending.

Creation 

Photo by Mike Petrucci (Public Domain)


My heart is in my eyes, like a periscope

reaching up from deep inside my chest, 

feeling everything I see. 

But not seeing everything I feel, 

I choke and sputter, 

searching for a picture, 

a story to settle the waves. 

Fumbling, my fingers 

cannot draw the dream,

cannot sculpt the scene

and so I paint with words. 

Paint a landscape 

with letters in black and white,

lines and curves 

that you speak to life 

with your heart-voice,

your mind-voice, 

your silent voice only you can hear. 

And your soul’s ear 

hears my unsung song, 

melting words like wax, into colors 

that splash across the canvas 

of your mind. 

You color in my landscape with you. 

So that together, 

you and I, 

we create this something.

This one thing.

Together. 

We paint a world.

© Nichole Q Perreault 

What It’s Like to be a White, Conservative, Christian Woman on Facebook These Days

FEELING A LITTLE RIDICULOUS 

On Friday, January 20, I shared a photo of me and two friends at the spa. The overnight was a birthday gift to my friend from her husband and we were ridiculously spoiled. Seriously. While I was receiving my Swedish massage, and, in particular, when the massage therapist wrapped my feet in warm towels, I kept repeating over and over in my mind, this is so good, it’s ridiculous. And trust me when I say, visions of starving children, women marching on Washington and homeless people huddled around fires paraded through my mind more than once.

Before posting the photo of us, my friends and I joked about the caption and landed on this: “Some women march on Washington. We march to the spa. #merica”

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-6-48-34-pm

It was ironic. And silly. And yes, ridiculous. But that was the point.

At first glance, some may have just seen three privileged white women. And I suppose we are. But that’s not the whole story. Is it ever?

A BRIEF HISTORY

In rural Connecticut 1973, I was born the daughter of white teenagers. One set of grandparents were Polish immigrants, coal miners and tobacco farmers. The other set farmers and blue collar workers. My parents divorced when I was two and my dad left us. My mother remarried and they had a son, but when I was six, my stepfather became ill. To support our family, my mom worked a full-time insurance job and waitressed at night. We moved 21 times before I was twelve, the same year my stepfather died, at which point my mother bought a house. Even though we moved a lot, I attended the same school district in Simsbury, Connecticut for 12 years. Then, in the midst of a rebellious adolescence, I became a follower of Jesus Christ.

When I was 18, I met a white man at a local, beach volleyball pit (sand, no beach). He had lived his entire life in Simsbury, had just graduated junior college and was painting houses for a living. His parents were married as were his grandparents; they were financial professionals, doctors and nurses. We had our first daughter together when I was 19 and he was 23. We married that same year and had a second daughter seven years later. Over the years, my husband has worked his way up through the aerospace division of a local company and I have focused primarily on being a mom while working as a nursery school director, bookkeeper and now, a church Communications Director. We own a 1500 square foot cape and I drive a used car, enabling us to pay for private high school, college tuition and travel more than we once did. (Though my husband’s frequent flyer points come in handy!) We are also active in our church and community and do what we can with our time and money to make the world a better place. Could we do more? Definitely.

ABOUT MY PRIVILEGE AND WHO I AM TODAY

Do you recognize privilege in that story? I do. I’m white in a country that has a history of oppressing people of other races and ethnicities. I had a parent who provided for me and grandparents who helped when they could. I had the opportunity to attend one of the nation’s top public school systems. I married a white man who had two parents, grew up in the same education system and whose parents paid for him to go to college. Our families continue to live nearby and have always been supportive.

I am grateful for all the opportunities that I have had, especially because most of those are not privileges I chose. I did not choose my skin color, my parents, my school system or my husband’s background.

Yet there are other, less glamorous things I didn’t choose, as well. I know what it’s like to grow up poor in a wealthy town. To have a fourth-grade teacher tell my best friend, in front of the class, that I am “no good” and not to hang around me, simply because I live in the wrong part of town with an unconventional family. To be home with a sick parent and baby brother while the other parent works nights. To share a two-bedroom apartment with my mom, brother and grandparents. To juggle school and an afterschool job with whatever extracurriculars I can manage. To be made fun of for being a stupid, clumsy “Polack”.

My friends from the photo have similar stories. They were not rich and their lives were not easy. But, yes; they, like me, were born with some privileges. They, like me, do not know what it is to grow up oppressed. But they, like me, do not take that for granted. They are kind, compassionate, loving women who are committed to their families, work harder than half the people I know and give of their time, talents and money to make the world a better place.

Perhaps the greatest irony is that these two women and I are a united voice for the equality of women in the Christian church and culture. We are also, in various ways, actively engaged in ministries such as racial reconciliation, investing in under-resourced communities, the fight against human trafficking in Connecticut and bettering the lives of those in Greater Hartford and around the world.

AFRAID

How I hate to think that my post of the three of us offended and perhaps even hurt people we care about. I generally avoid political discourse on social media for that very reason – because I have friends, colleagues, family and acquaintances on far ends of the political spectrum and I love them all. I never want our political differences to come between us. Ever.

But, if I’m being totally honest, as a Christian woman who leans conservative but also does not fit in the classic conservative box, I feel marginalized when it comes to having a voice that is respected in the current atmosphere, especially on social media. I am not suggesting that my plight is the same as that of a black woman or a gay teenager or a Muslim immigrant. I simply want you to know that I do feel a bit bullied into silence; and most of that pressure comes from other women. I am truly afraid to say what I believe for fear of being misunderstood, judged, lashed out against and so on. But most of all, I am afraid of losing my friends.

In this era of click-bait headlines, soundbites and comedy show newsgathering, who has time to hear my story of how I was adamantly pro-choice until I experienced the physical, emotional and spiritual ravages of abortion firsthand? Who wants to sit down over a cup of tea and hear me tell of my first and limited childhood experiences with people of another race, and how that unknowingly shaped my relationships with black people for decades thereafter? Who wants to hear me explain why I believe that individuals, churches and other shared-value organizations can better meet people’s needs than the government ever will? That I would love to be able to give more of my time and income to building relationships with people and investing in their lives?

Can you be curious or interested or respectful, without shutting me out or scrolling away?

HEARING IS SOMETHING WE DO

The question is the same for me as it is for you. Are we willing to hear one another? Biblically, the word “hear” is often used as an active verb that results in the hearer doing something in response to what he or she heard. On a good day, we may listen to the words we say, but how often do we really hear?

Actually, have you ever noticed that the word “hear” is literally part of the word “heart”? To truly know you, to know your very heart, I must do more than listen, I must hear.

So if we were to try to hear one another today, to know one another’s hearts, what would be the “doing” part? I’m no expert, but after all this blah blah-ing I thought I’d offer up a suggestion that begins and ends with love.

  1. Love: Love is a choice and a verb. So, first, choose to love the person despite your differences, by being kind, compassionate, truthful, respectful, and gracious.
  2. Let Go: Set aside prejudice, judgment and all defensive weapons. (I’m thinking figurative weapons but setting down literal weapons is probably a good idea, too.)
  3. Listen: Pay attention to what the person is truly saying, not what you think they are saying.
  4. Look: Try to see things from their perspective. Ask yourself, what does life or this issue look like to them? How does this differ from my experience?
  5. Learn: Seek and embrace new insights and understanding from their knowledge and experience. There is always something to learn.
  6. Love: Continue to actively love the person regardless of your differences. Then consider (and ask God) how what you learned can help you better love those around you.

Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to hear what’s truly on the hearts of those women who didn’t feel represented at the march? What about those who felt so compelled to go that they gave up time, energy and money to travel across the country to march in the freezing cold? Imagine if we made an effort to understand the neighbor who voted for Trump, or the sister who voted for Clinton or the co-worker who voted for a third-party candidate.

Or this lady, who voted for Ron Swanson.

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BEGIN AND END WITH LOVE

I know I’m beginning to sound a bit like a Beatles song or a Coke commercial, so I will wrap up with this: in my experience, I have found that most of us, at our core, want the same things.  We love our families, our friends and neighbors and we want them to experience all the best that life offers. We love our country and this world. We are seeking what is good and right and best for our future and the future of those who come after us. We may not always agree on how to get there, but our hearts all long for the same things – truth, goodness, beauty and love.

This very universe we inhabit began with love and someday, will end with love. And all the acts of truth, goodness and beauty that have colored in this vast, dark, mysterious expanse of time and space, will live on like gems refined in the fire of a thousand suns. So let us run after these things together. Truth. Goodness. Beauty. And may we always begin and end with love. ~NP

What do you think? What did I miss? Do you have anything to add? Or changes you can recommend? Because I am here and I want to hear you.

© Nichole Q Perreault

 

 

 

Unexpected Gifts

Sometimes, I read old blog entries and I’m like, “Wow, did I really write that?” It’s weird to hear a message from your five-years-ago-self. Super weird. But this came up in my Facebook memories today. And, I say this with as much surprise as you might: it’s good. Like really good. Hahahahaha. Merry Christmas my friends!

Lightning Bug

Photo by claritaPhoto by clarita

Do you remember that Christmas present you always wanted but never got? I found mine while reverently flipping through the Sears Wish Book, eyes wide, excitement bubbling through my veins. I circled the picture over and over, practically cutting a hole through the paper with the tip of my pen. Then, when I showed my parents, they promptly informed me that a Barbie Dream House was not in the budget nor would it fit in our two bedroom apartment. Even after a letter to Santa and some earnest prayers, come Christmas day, among all the presents under the tree, there was no Barbie Dream House. So goes life. Sometimes, we ask for one thing and get another.

Most of the time, such disappointments are small and quickly forgotten. But at other times, they hurt. Imagine the child who wants a set of paints or a guitar but…

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When Thanksgiving is More Than Sacrifice

When I wrote this post last November, I was deep in the throes of grief, mourning the loss of my youngest brother. Over the next year, I would find that, sometimes, God’s on a roll. It wasn’t enough for Him to shatter my physical family…He shattered my spiritual family, too.

This year, offering thanksgiving is more than a sacrifice. Offering thanksgiving terrifies me.  

You can’t know all He’s taken this past year because I can’t tell you. But know this…even a young, bright, blossoming tree may be, just under the surface, experiencing the ravages of an unwanted enemy…and if you could open up that tree and look inside, you would find a hollow, empty space that once was full of life and liquid sunshine.

He gives and takes away.

This summer, I was in a meeting where each person was asked to share something for which we were thankful. I figured that if I couldn’t thank God for the crap (Don’t like that word? Here are few alternatives. Feel free to mentally censor.) happening in our lives, I could at least thank Him for food, shelter and, well, air conditioning. So I did. Three days later, our air conditioner died. It’s like He was mocking me.

Thanksgiving doesn’t just hurt. Thanksgiving scares me.

He gives and takes away. And we are left to suffer.

Who is this God I worship? The One who asks for our gratitude and then snatches away the very things we thank Him for? The One who inflicts pain then wants to comfort us for the very pain He’s inflicted? That sounds like abuse, not love.

I can hear my pastor now: “No! God’s not abusive!” (Because he literally preached that last Sunday. I recommend a listen. Especially if reading about my experience is difficult for you or leaves you asking a lot of questions.)

Still I can’t help but ask: What happens when all around you God’s promises go unfulfilled?

We are not the only ones. I watch as friends and family cry out to Him for help, for intervention, for hope, and He is silent. I watch as they ask for bread, but He gives them a stone; as they ask for fish, but He sends the serpent.

Unfortunately, in these trials, even the most well-meaning people place the burden on the broken. “Do this. Say that. Pray more. Worry less. And you’ll see…God will work it out.”  We like that logic because, however subtle, that logic implies we have the power to fix the problem. And if we have the power to fix it, then we are in control. We so desperately want to be in control, that we fool ourselves into imagining God’s omnipotence is subject to our actions. 

I’ve had a lot of time to think about that this year. Now, when someone tells me “Do this. Say that. Pray more. Worry Less.” here’s how I respond:

Anytime God wants to show up, He can. We have prayed. We have begged and pleaded and wept and wailed. We have followed His systems. Trusted His people. Waited on Him to work. And everything He’s provided arrived tainted. Sure, He gave us bread…with stones baked into the dough. Yes, there were fish…stonefish laced with venom. We have asked. And He has answered as He has pleased. We’re waiting. Anytime He wants to restore what’s been plundered, He can. He’s God. It’s on Him.

He can mock me if He wants. Or He can bless me. He can withhold His promises. Or He can fulfill them. He can hand me a fish and watch as the poison leaches into my blood. Or He can bring us living water and food fit for a King. He’s God. He can do whatever He wants. And He will.

That is the black, breath-sucking, untethered truth: He gives and takes away. He is not tame. He is not safe. This is the God we struggle to face. All-powerful and unpredictable. He will not stay inside the lines. He answers to no one.

Last year, I could offer thanksgiving even though every blessing was tinged with pain. This year, I am simply too afraid.

I am no longer the “wounded, angry child” who climbs into her Father’s lap.

I am become the battered, fearful one who hides behind the couch, monitoring her Father’s every move. How can she trust the Father who helped others by causing harm to those she loves? No, she won’t hold out her hand for the gift of shiny gold because she fears the razor blades that lurk beneath the glittering paper.

Don’t judge her too harshly. She fought. A long time. Because she understands her heart…how quickly it slams shut when threatened. So with trembling arms and locked knees and feet slipping, she held back the massive door as it bore down on her. She battled longer than even she thought possible. But it’s a heavy door. And she is so very tired.

Before you blame her, or shame her, or think you know better, remember, He gives and He takes away. He is not tame. He is not safe. But they tell her He is good. And she is waiting.

© Nichole Q Perreault