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

In the Rubble of Broken Hearts

Even writing hurts. This thing I sometimes love more than life…hurts.

I want to stop. To put it off. To wait until I can write about things that sparkle and bring light to your eyes. I want to wait until I can make you smile, make you laugh, make you remember why we’re even friends.

I don’t want to hurt. And I don’t want to be the girl who’s always hurting. And I don’t want to be the girl you roll your eyes at because she just. Won’t. Stop. Complaining.

I want God to give me shiny, happy words. Because I want to be shiny and happy.

But He’s called me to this: the right now…the ugly and real…the what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

And some days, I hate it. Today is one of those days…

In my last post, I referenced Isaiah 54:10:

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken, nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord who has compassion on you. (NIV)

That was just a few short weeks ago and even then, I couldn’t possibly imagine how much He’d be willing to shake, how much He’d be willing to remove.

My world’s a small world. And I have taken things like love and friendship and kindness and peace for granted.

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When (g)ods Say Nothing

My first ever “found” poem, written in response to Writing 201 | Poetry, Day 6: Faces, Found Poetry, Chiasmus. I “found” my poem on page 135 of ‘Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite books. Judge for yourselves how well I met the requirements. I had fun doing this – though I think the design part of the process gave me an ocular migraine…seriously, though. Pic and text poem both below:

Photo © Nichole Q. Perreault

Photo © Nichole Q. Perreault

Say more than gods
When the moon’s full
The King himself sacrifices a man, the Word
Determined, He answered
What’s unsaid
In the valley, dark
When gods say nothing

© Nichole Q. Perreault

Crucify Me

Memories have been pecking away at me...creeping in, as real as yesterday. Not the good memories, but the bad – the foolish, humiliating memories, the devastating moments that I long to erase.

Without warning, they rush in like a tidal wave, mocking me, insulting me, threatening to dash me against the rocks, because there’s nowhere to run, no way to escape myself.

Suddenly, I hear my own sharp-edged voice:

I hate myself.

Sometimes it’s merely a thought. Other times, a whisper. Today, I spit the words out loud, just to make it stop. To halt the rising wave, to make the accusing voices Just. Shut. Up. To stop the harassment, the shame, the regret, the pain.

I hate myself. A truth that rises from the churning depths of me, like a bubble of air in thick molten lava…ugly, menacing, then empty…a hollow, shameful ache.

I hate myself. I hold fast to those three little words, with white knuckles and nails digging into flesh. 

I used to think it strange how others cut their flesh with razors or glass, but I…I cut with an invisible blade, carving, slicing, maiming this heart already thick with scars.

And I love the hating, the punishing.

Because if I can’t escape myself, I will hate myself. Consume myself. Destroy myself.

I will crucify myself.

I will take myself to the cross and begin the hammering, the nailing, the piercing. Dismissing His sacrifice and mercy, I try, in my own strength, to crush, to crucify, to bleed out my blood in payment for my failures and yet in this, too, I fail. This one arm is always free – and I can’t complete the job.

The crucified cannot be the crucifier.

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Out of Darkness, Light | A Christmas Poem

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of being told how to do Christmas better, how to get it right, how to rethink it or turn it upside down or make it count or What. Ever. Not that that those aren’t worthy endeavors, but rather at this point, I just want to enjoy Christmas for what it is. And when it came to writing a Christmas post, I was practically gagging on my own words. That’s when I know it’s bad – when I can’t even stand to listen to myself. So I gave up and wrote a poem. No commentary. No lectures. No exhortation. No opinions. No judgments. No assertions.

Just a poem. A painting, if you will, of words. Merry Christmas.

 

 

Out of Darkness, Light

We walk in darkness
Stumbling, feet slipping
Grasping for something, anything to keep from falling

We scrape our hands on broken branches
Our knees on stony paths
In trying to save ourselves, we are wounded

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Is Your Church a Safe Place? Mine’s Not

Is your church a safe place? Mine’s not. 

Our doors are open wide. On any given Sunday, you might find yourself sitting next to an adulterer, a drug addict or a murderer.

At my church, people gossip, they get angry and hurt each other, and sometimes they harbor unforgiveness.

At my church, we have people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety disorder.

There are people who self-harm, cheat on taxes, swear, smoke and watch ‘R’ rated movies.

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Winter’s Coming but Spring is Here II

Winter. A season of painful exchanges: flip-flops for bulky jackets, warm breezes for

cold floors, the sound of crickets for the hum of the furnace, which, let’s face it, is basically the sound of money burning.

But the exchange that weighs on my body like a wet, wool coat, is that of light for darkness. Each autumn day, the coming winter snatches another two or three minutes of sunlight, replacing it with night. We wake in the dark, go to work in the dark, come home in the dark, eat dinner in the dark….

As of today, there are 53 more days of sliding headfirst into the abyss.

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On Being a Girl | Late Night Ramblings

Tough. Sharp. Witty. Snarky. Capable. Independent. Powerful. Like super-powerful, machine gun, taser wielding, ninja powerful. In control. Emotionally guarded. Mysterious. Beautiful…in an average-girl-made-alluring-by-her-mystery-and-inaccessibility kind of way. Likes others, even loves others, but doesn’t need anyone.

That’s the girl I want to be: Ziva David, Sydney Bristow, Kate Austen, Veronica Mars.

Today I read an article in Smithsonian magazine about Amazon women, in which the author, Amanda Foreman, suggests that girls don’t want to be girls unless we have powerful, warrior-like heroes and role models, like Wonder Woman. That ruffled my feathers a bit. Maybe some girls want to be girly girls…soft, submissive, sweet, meek. And that’s OK, right?

 

 

Then I sat down and devoured season three of Veronica Mars and realized – I am that article. I want, have always wanted, to be Sydney, Ziva, Kate, Veronica. I mean, I even dressed up as the Black Widow for our Christmas Card for crying out loud:

Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

So maybe there’s something to this Amazon woman deal after all. Because apparently I want to be Wonder Woman. (With more clothes on, thank you.)

So what’s that about? Power? Control?

Is it bad? Is it wrong to want to be strong and powerful? Maybe not.

But to want to be always in control? (Eve calling….)

To want to be independent? To need no one else?

There is this part of me that wants to shut out the whole world. To keep my heart all to myself. To keep my love for others wrapped up tightly inside, hidden away.

So that all my love is mine. And all my pain is mine. And all my fear is mine. And all my joy is mine. And all my grief is mine. And all my shame is mine. And all my everything….is mine.

And you can’t have it. You can’t see it or touch it or feel it or know it. You can’t have it. Because you can’t have me.

And there it is.

A cursed and wounded heart, frozen by freedom’s great imposter: independence.

But I want it so badly. Today, more than any other day, I feel it – how strong it is, this idol that rules my heart.

And so I ride fences and seek pleasures that harm me. Always wanting what I can’t get. Pawing, stamping the dusty earth along the rails…butting against walls that hold me in, chasing freedom. Freedom from pain and people and expectations and false hope.

But walking through this world alone is its own sort of prison…with transparent, icy walls that deceive me into believing that love is safer when it can’t touch me, that seeing is enough. Will I ever be able to let someone love me? Tell me, Don Henley, when will it be too late?

This idol…this me wanting me all to myself…it has to go. It has to go.

But how? How do I surrender who I am? The only thing I have…me?

But do I even have me or is it just an illusion, a lie? Because who am I anyway? How did I get here and how will I go?

I am not my own. I didn’t make me. I can’t keep me.

Or more astutely:

It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, then I first begin to have a real personality of my own…There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given yourself to Him you will not have a real self…Your real, new self will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. – CS Lewis

Oh the futility of my fight. On my own, I am nothing.

And I feel tired. And I don’t want Him to love me or comfort me BECAUSE I AM ANGRY. Angry like a 6 year old girl who just realized that someday she will die. That this life – this awesome, beautiful, terrible, wondrous life – will end. Will be snatched out, like a carpet, from under her feet, knocking her hard on the floor and stealing the breath from her lungs. No more blue sky and green trees and grass to tickle the feet and beaches to wander and dreams to dream and futures to plan.

And she lies there thinking, “Who is this God that gives and takes away?”

And the pain and betrayal run deep. So deep that even nail-scarred hands that gave everything burn. Because this place is raw. And the healing hurts.

And I wonder…who am I? Why did You make me? Why did you make me a girl? What does it even mean? Who should I want to be? How should I want to be? Is it safe to want to be anything? Or will you snatch that out from under me too?

Or will you take this broken, wounded, angry girl…and remake me into something beautiful? Something strong? Something good? Something free?

There are so many things I want to be, but Lord, can You make who I am?

 

When My Best Isn’t Good Enough

I hate being weak. I hate that I am not enough. I want to be more. To do more.

God, so much of what I want to do is for You. Why do You keep holding me down beneath Your mighty hand? You say You will lift me up in due time. When will that be? Can You point to a date on a calendar? Or give me a general idea? If it’s a long way off, my iPhone goes ahead like 20 years. And Due Time has got to be within the next 20 years. Right? God? Are you there?

In Jesus Calling, I’m instructed to rejoice in my weakness which, like a lodestone, draws me ever closer to God. Once upon a time those were encouraging words, but lately they sound a lot like this: blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

What happens when I am aware of my desperate need for the Lord but I don’t feel any closer to Him?

What happens when He doesn’t answer my prayers? When I ask for strength and yet have so little? When I beg to feel Him, plead to hear from Him and yet…nothing?

I go to His word for nourishment but everything tastes like dry grass. Parched, I drag myself across burning sands only to find an empty creek bed. I wrap myself in the love of friends and family but my heart shivers through the sunless night.

And I recollect a truth carved in the walls of my soul…but it’s like recalling the lyrics of a song without remembering the melody.

I know He is with me but I can’t feel Him.

And so I recite the words, even though I can’t remember the tune:

Fear not, for I am with you.
     Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
     I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

And I believe…even though I don’t feel. And I hope even though I can’t see. And I choose trust instead of fear – trust in the God who promises to uphold me with His right hand.

His right hand – a symbol of strength in the scriptures. Not His left, but His right hand. Because God only gives us His best.

And I keep reading:

For I am the Lord your God
    who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
    I will help you. Isaiah 41:13

The Lord my God who takes hold of my right hand. Not my left, but my right hand – my strength. My best.

And I consider what life would be like with God holding my right hand. I imagine cooking without my right hand and typing without my right hand – and the imagining comes pretty easily because with chronic pain and tendonitis, I am sometimes forced to rest my hands, and wow…even in those brief hours, I hate it.

(Did I mention I hate being weak? Because I do. I hate it.)

Honestly, God taking hold of my right hand doesn’t sound particularly helpful. Surely, it would be easier if He held my left hand.

But then…would He even be helping me at all? Or would He just be something I hold onto to make me feel better – like a security blanket or the cross I wear around my neck?

Like an unsteady toddler who cries for help after falling down and then pushes her father away as soon as she’s back on her feet, I want Him to help me do it on my own.

But that’s not quite how it works, is it? God is not raising us to be independent. Rather, He’s calling us back from independence, into the freedom that comes in total dependence on Him.

And that means that sometimes He must take hold of us at our strongest places, limit us, slow us down.

Perhaps it’s the only way He can get me to stop trying to do it all on my own. In taking away the things I rely on – my endurance, my abilities, my intellect, my creativity, my spiritual insight, my energy, my confidence – He reminds me of the one thing that really matters: Him.

And I remember His strength that called light out of darkness, igniting the fire of countless suns and flinging them across space and time.

His strength that hurled the planets into motion with perfect precision, summoned beings out of the earth and rushed the wind of life into man. His strength that bore the crushing weight of humanity’s doom and under it, through it, forged a new way. His strength that ruptured the tight and binding prison of flesh, birthing new life in a dry and barren wasteland.

His strength. Which has always been….will always be…enough.

And so, confused and frustrated, weak and exhausted, I stop tugging and pulling and fighting and trying to wrench my hand away from His.

And in this moment, I surrender my best – which is never enough – so that He can give me His best. Which has always been….will always be…enough.

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The morning after I completed this post, Leroy Case preached about our God the “Star-breather.” His message was incredibly relevant to me, to this post, and at the end he shared a song with us. And now I am sharing it with you.

Already All I Need by Christy Nockels

 

 

No More How-to-live-a-good-Christian-life Books!

Last week a friend emailed me asking to borrow some books for her vacation. In her note she wrote something like this, “I want good, enjoyable fiction. I don’t want another book on how to live a good Christian life. I already have more of those than I can count.”

I thought, “Preach it, sister!”

Self-improvement books are burdensome. Because somewhere deep inside I know the truth: I can’t improve myself.

I have books stacked on my bay window, books lining the shelves in our basement, books piled on my nightstand, books overflowing onto the floor and books creeping under my bed…oh yeah, and books on my Kindle. And while some of them are fiction and poetry and science geeky kind of stuff, a whole lot of them are “how to live the good Christian life” books.

Which is interesting, because I’ve never liked how-to-be-a-better-kind-of-anything books. Actually, I may be the only parent in the history of modern parenting that hasn’t read a book on how to be a better parent. (“Ah, that explains it,” you remark to yourself. I can hear you!)

Despite my disdain for such books, they’ve still found their way into my home, like sugar ants crawling over the countertops in the springtime.

Sure, books like that can be helpful. Sometimes. But I can only think of two or three that have genuinely impacted my life. (Admittedly, my avoidance of such books may affect the odds.) Most of the time self-improvement books, even the Christian kind, wear me out. With every turn of the page, every latest idea, next step or new plan, I feel a heaviness descend upon me, and I am weighed down by could-haves and should-haves and have-tos and want-tos and before I know it I’m carrying 10 times the weight of the book on my back.

Books weigh a lot – just try moving a box of them – but self-improvement books are burdensome. Because somewhere deep inside I know the truth: I can’t improve myself.

None of us can. We can’t fix the brokenness we inherited nor mend the brokenness we cause. That’s why we need Jesus. Yesterday. Today. Every day.

I know there’s some verses out there on this topic…let’s see:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain…Psalm 127:1

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matthew 23:27-28

Sadly, many self-improvement books are just instructions on how to whitewash ourselves. No wonder they’re burdensome! Any attempt at righteousness is more than we can bear.

I felt not only burdened but trapped, caught in the sticky web of do this and be that.

I can’t fix myself. I can’t improve myself. And I can’t even pretend very well. Because deep inside, I know…I know what’s deep inside. I know what I’ve done and I know how I think and I know what I fear and I know what I hate and I know that sooner or later, I’m going to screw up again. (And chances are it’ll be sooner.)

I’m not saying that every “how to have a good Christian life” book is worthless or that you should never read them. But if my friend feels this way and I feel this way, well, chances are that some of you feel this way too.

Last week, after reading my friend’s email, I realized just how much this self-improvement mentality was once again weighing me down. I felt not only burdened but trapped, caught in the sticky web of do this and be that. And I wasn’t even in the middle of a self-improvement book.

What does that tell you?

This self-improvement/life-improvement mentality pervades our atmosphere. It’s runs through the veins of our culture. There’s almost no escaping the madness. And yet there’s a way. There’s always a Way. Which leads me to my next point: self-improvement mentality keeps my focus on me and off of Jesus. And “me” is a small, murky, unpredictable place to be.

So while I’m not suggesting you throw out all those books, I do encourage you to throw off the weight of self-improvement, or life-improvement or whatever you call it. Just let it go. (Oh gosh, now I’ll be singing that song all night – by the way, a post on that movie is in the works.)

Now where were we…yes, let it go. No! Not the surrender to your curse and harm the whole kingdom kind of let it go! Let it go like surrender to God let it go. (Geez, I really need to finish that blog post.) Whoops! Went off the rails there a bit. But seriously….

Surrender to Him your feeble attempts at making yourself better, making your life better. Lay it all down. Again. But not because I say so. After all, this is NOT a self-improvement blog. In case the previous two paragraphs weren’t evidence enough of my questionable methods, let me just say it outright: I can’t make you better. I just happen to know Someone who can, Someone who will. Which is why I write a drive-my-readers-into-the-arms-of-God kind of blog, and hopefully make you smile while doing it. (Contrary to what you may think, my goal is not to drive you into His arms screaming and crying…but hey…if it works…)

So go to the Source. Surrender to Jesus because that’s what He says to do…over and over and over again. (Psalm 46:10Mat. 11:28-30, Prov. 3:5-6Ps. 37:7, Mark 14:35-36, Jer. 10:23)

And feel Him slip the burden off your back and free you from the tangled web of lies and wash you clean. Let Him hold you in his arms and quiet you with his love and rejoice over you with singing. (Zeph. 3:17) And let His song heal you. He’s the only one who can.