Before We Speak

This started out as one thing and became another. I anticipate follow up posts but I never really know what God has planned for my writing. 

I have spent the last several decades as part of America’s evangelical Christian subculture. It’s nice here. The people are nice. The message is nice. The coffee is nice. We keep it neat and tidy – from the clothes we deem acceptable, to the music we say we listen to, to the shows we admit we watch, to the language we use to whitewash our sin. Stop by and if you don’t look too closely you’ll see that everything is really, really nice.

It’s like nice is our unspoken brand. We mean well. We think if we make everything nice we’ll be able to convince everyone that Jesus is nice and if we convince everyone that Jesus is nice, then maybe they’ll choose to follow Jesus. And we really, truly do want everyone to know Jesus like we know Jesus.

But Jesus was more than nice. Jesus was Real. Jesus was kind and compassionate and brave but he was also sad and angry and afraid. He was quiet and he was loud. He fasted and he feasted. He laughed and he wept. He was the Prince of Peace and he flipped tables.

People, can we please start being more than just “nice”? Can we be Real, too?

I know a lot of you are going to say YES! but have you considered what it means to be really Real? I don’t just mean honest about our feelings Real. I mean:

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A Poor Girl’s Music

In the blackness
A small radius:
My hands
The edge of my pillow
My face
Lit by the glow of my phone

My thumbs quick, but sloppy
Autocorrect failing to predict
What I want to say

I hold the backspace key
Watch the words fall away
One by one
But fast
Like disappearing dominoes
Satisfying

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Yes, God Will Let You Down

The song starts off well-enough:

…let the King of my heart
Be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves
Oh He is my song”

Photo by Hugo Kerr on Unsplash

The achingly beautiful melody sucks me in and I sing along. Until the chorus hits me. Like a brick.

“You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down”

Wait. What?

“You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down”

Excuse me…um…can we talk about this for a minute?

One night, while enduring said chorus from a church lobby, a young woman said to me, “What about all those people in there who feel like God has let them down?” I responded with something equivalent to, “Preach it, sister.”

Then, because it was, after all, a worship song, we had to suffer through about 5,763 more rounds of the chorus….which was long enough for me to compose most of this blog post in my head.

It starts off like this: The song is crap.

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Repentance

There is more to say than sorry
More to do than turn around
There is you and me
Face to face
Where the light leaves shadows
Across our cheekbones
A deceptive mirror
My right eye in the darkness
Your left
We see
We see so differently
Blinded both by darkness
And by light
We stumble
We stumble all the same
Oh there is more to say than sorry
More to do than turn around

While We Were Yet Monsters (Lessons from Moana)

BECAUSE MOANA CHANGED MY LIFE

One night, our family was watching the quirky, teen sit-com, iCarly, when my oldest daughter snapped her head toward me, eyes wide, smile flirting with laughter, and exclaimed, “Mom, are you crying?!” Yes. Yes, I was. I cried while watching iCarly. And not because of the juvenile writing and mediocre acting. Nope. I cried because of some cheesy dialogue about the importance of family or friendship or belonging or whatever.

I can find tear-worthy meaning in a shoebox. OK, well, what woman can’t find tear-worthy meaning in a shoebox? Bad analogy. Basically, I can find tear-worthy meaning just about anywhere – rock music, picture books, presidential speeches, Facebook posts, and of course, kids television. So it shouldn’t surprise you that I could dedicate an entire blog post to a two-minute scene from the Walt Disney Studios’ movie, Moana.

WAIT!!! Even if Disney movies aren’t your thing, stick with me. I think you’ll be glad you did. It’s not every day that an animated Disney movie surprises me and while I’ve also cried at Toy Story and Brother Bear, the plot twist at the end of Moana did more than make me cry. It kind of changed my life. 

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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

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.

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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:

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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.