Inside Out

Outward toward the outside
Toward that other
I am pulled by you
By light
By eyes that linger
By songs of laughter
Rushing up and out until
I slam face-first into the glass shell
The one I almost forgot
I can see outside
The world spinning by in streaks of blue, white, yellow, green
My hands splayed, nose pressed to the cold, slippery glass
Longing for something Real, something Out There
Something other-than-me
Perhaps to get out
I must first go in
Inwardly to my insides
Winding down the winding staircase
Spiraling
Down down down
Into the darkness
Creeping still into the shadows
Nothing but the sound of breath
Bare feet brushing on a cold dirt floor
Until I hear the thrumming
Faint and far away
Or do I feel it
In my soles
The blackness presses and
I lay me down
My hands splayed, my ear pressed to the hard earth
I listen
To the beating, yes, the beating of a heart
Foreign yet familiar as my own hands
Her heart – my heart – packed away, piece by piece, day by day, year by year
Deep inside this packed-earth shell
The one I almost forgot
The one that keeps me here
Neither in nor out
But somewhere in between
Aching always to be free

© Nichole Q Perreault

Written for my poetry group in response to the following prompt: choose a book, turn to page 29, pick 10 words that appeal to you, use at least seven of them in a poem. 

CHRISTMAS TRADITION DOs & DON’Ts | DON’T Hang on to Traditions for Traditions’ Sake!

Tree

Tree (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

For the first 12 years or so of our marriage we had a real tree. I wanted our family to have that quintessential New England experience of singing carols while riding a horse-drawn carriage into the tree fields, cutting down the perfect tree and bringing it home to decorate before a cozy fire. I so firmly believed in my Hallmark Christmas Special fantasy that it took me 12 years to finally wake up and admit what tree shopping was truly like for this cold-weather-loathing family of perfectionist chiefs.

Let me paint you a little picture:

First we bundle everyone up in coats, snow pants, hats, gloves, scarves & boots. Then we squeeze into car seats and seatbelts even though it’s now hard to breathe properly. After arriving at the farm, we ride in a noisy, exhaust-emitting, tractor-drawn wagon that drops us off in a seemingly endless field of trees.  Two hours later, after trudging through the snow from one tree to another to another to another, someone asks, through chattering teeth, to look at the first tree again.(That person is probably me.) Of course, we can’t actually find the first tree but we try anyway.

Once we finally do choose a tree, we strap it on the car, drive home and cut the trunk so that the 10 foot tall tree we bought will actually fit beneath our seven-foot high ceilings. We then wrestle the tree into the house, struggle to make it stand up straight, fill the stand with sugar-water while trying to convince the cat not to drink said water and vacuum up all the pine-needles. After all that, we explain to the children that, no, we can’t decorate the tree yet because we must wait 24 hours for the branches to “settle,” whatever that means. (Come to think of it, that sounds a little like the kind of excuse exhausted parents might make up in order to give themselves a break before hanging ornaments. Mom? Jeb?)

Not quite the Hallmark Special I had in mind. Though, when considering the quality of Hallmark Specials, maybe we weren’t that far off.

Well, a few years ago my mother offered me her beautiful artificial tree. (She has vacillated between artificial and fake trees over the years.) I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this tree is the most realistic looking artificial tree I have ever laid eyes on. Seriously, ask my friends. The tree is so realistic it’s like its own little Christmas miracle. And she bought this woodless wonder at…wait for it…K-Mart!

So while the naturalist snob in me balked at having a tree that needed to be put together, the thought of spending another year in tree farm perdition propelled me to say “YES!”

And you know what? My kids get can’t wait to put the silly, plastic thing together!

Just finished putting it together | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

They’re getting kind of big aren’t they? | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

It takes all of about 30 minutes and then we’re ready to decorate. (After I string the lights, that is.) And I love this tree. I absolutely love our K-mart, snap-together tree. And you know what? Having an artificial tree is a lot less stressful than trying to reach some artificial, unattainable Christmas ideal. That goes for horse-drawn carriage rides or Who-roast-beast or finding mom the perfect gift.

So if you have some traditions you’re hanging onto because that’s just the way it’s always been or because, like me, you have some artificial idea about what Christmas should look like, don’t be afraid to let go.

Set yourself free! Try something new you’ve always wanted to do or wait before God with an open hand and see what He has in store for you.

Living History | My Political News Addiction is Killing Me

This post was written in response to the WordPress.com Weekly Writing Challenge.

Well, at least it’s killing my joy.

Photo by  DarrenHester

Photo by DarrenHester

I guess I’ve kind of known this for a while but it took a 40 day fast to expose the damage. As a junkie – political news junkie, just to clarify – I needed time away from the drugs (i.e., political news websites and cable news) to remember what life was like without them.

When our church observed a time of fasting and prayer to coincide with the Impact Connecticut 40 Days of Worship, I felt God prompting me to give up political news. I was so relieved – He didn’t say chocolate or television or baseball! Just political news. I actually wondered if I heard Him correctly, but time and again I heard the same answer: give up political news.

So with Syria in crisis and the budget battle looming, I logged off of my favorite poli-news sites, cold turkey. However, after a few days, I realized that political news is everywhere: on local television, on cable television, in magazines, on the radio, on the web, Facebook and Twitter. I can’t even turn on the Disney channel without Michelle Obama lecturing me about exercise. (If I wanted to be exercising, would I be watching Disney channel?) Maybe that’s not exactly political news, but I can’t see her or hear her without thinking about politics so she was off limits. Period.

Ultimately, I found that to keep my fast, I needed to avoid news and politics in every shape and form. So for most of September and half of October, that’s exactly what I did. Now I can spot (and scroll past) a political meme on Facebook without reading a single word of the post!

One night while channel surfing, I stumbled upon a tease for the nightly news: “Will the government reach a deal before midnight to avoid shutdown? Find out at 11.” My jaw almost hit the floor. What?! Shutdown?! Tonight?! That’s how out of touch I was.

Except for that one brief moment of shock and curiosity, I felt only relief – I didn’t have to go there. Didn’t have to listen to all the spin and arguments and back-biting. Didn’t have to let their mess ruin my day. And why should I? After all, in 40 days not much has changed. The Middle East is still a flipping mess. U.S. immigration will continue to be a disaster for the unforeseeable future. And politicians in Congress and the White House continue to fight over how to spend (or not spend) our money.

Seems that life goes on whether Nichole is getting all hot and bothered or not.

How liberating it is to know that the world still spins when we are sleeping – or watching I Love Lucy reruns instead of the morning news.

A little perspective is always good. But God used this fast to do so much more than give me perspective.

Years of watching and listening to the vitriol, contention, angst and even well-intentioned debate that permeates our news cycles, had invaded my heart like a bitter poison. As the fast wore on, I felt the poison seeping out of me, washing away. It was like an acrimony detox without the withdrawals. I relaxed. I relinquished my defensive position and felt the heavy armor melting away.

As my heart began to soften, I realized that my addiction, as addictions generally do, increased my misery rather than alleviated it; and the steady diet of hostility had made me…well…pissy. And pissy people don’t listen well. They don’t take in new information well. And even if they’re right, pissy people aren’t very gracious.

But God is. Gracious, I mean. Always. And He convicted me in the gentlest of ways. In love, He showed me myself. His mercy brought me to genuine tears of sorrow. Sorrow for the bad attitude I had been harboring and most of all, sorrow for the way I had allowed that attitude to keep me from loving others well.

Sure, I have plenty of family and friends with whom I differ politically and I love them. Always, always, I have known that we can agree to disagree, but still, somehow, there was a small part of my heart that I wouldn’t give to them…or let them enter. I was on guard.

Why? Because I hate being misunderstood. More than almost anything else in the world, I hate being misunderstood. Which means that if you think I’m a bigot or a woman-hater or a Bible thumper or a racist, I will be overcome with an almost irrepressible urge to defend, explain and validate myself. Sure, in part, that’s because I’m prideful and want your approval, but at the deepest level, I want to be understood because I want to be known.

Isn’t that what we all desire…to be known…to be truly, completely and thoroughly known?

But if I’m so busy trying to make sure you understand me, how will I ever really get to know you?

So I am laying down my idol of being understood by others. After all, God is the only One who truly knows us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. To search for understanding in anyone else is idolatry, plain and simple.

It’s not so much that God has changed my values or my principles or my opinion of how government and society should operate. I can’t even say I plan to vote differently. But He has changed my heart as only He can, because He knows me. He knows when I sit and when I rise, He perceives my thoughts from afar, He discerns my going out and my lying down, He is familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue He knows it completely. He hems me in behind and before. He has laid his hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. (Psalm 139)

In the Mirror

The following post was written for the Weekly Writing Challenge of WordPress.com.

Every scar holds a memory.

When I was little, my mother used to wince at the sight of it. 42 stitches from my scalp to my eyebrow. There are others…smaller ones…including the one inside my upper lip. Sometimes, I still run my tongue up and down the jagged ridge that cuts from the edge of my lip to where the skin meets my gums.

The memory is my mother’s, not mine. An empty aquarium shattering over the hard skull of her 14 month old daughter. Blood. Deep red. Heavy.

Washing glass from her little one’s hair while she waited for the ambulance.

“No time!” the police officer shouts. “I’ll drive you in my car.”

My father screaming, blaming. The officer leaves him behind.

Doctors whisking her baby girl into surgery.

“Will she be okay?”

“We’ll have to wait and see.”

Wait and see…and be questioned by protective services. It’s the standard protocol, they tell her.

Wait with empty arms as her little girl sleeps a dreamless sleep in a cold, sterile room down the hall. Wait as they pick glass splinters from her baby’s soft skin, as they stitch the broken, delicate flesh together. Wait and see the new face. The face of a memory she can never forget.

A memory I can never remember.

In the mirror, I see the only face I’ve ever known. Scars from a memory I own but cannot find.

I don’t remember my father screaming or the officer leaving him behind. I don’t remember my father much at all. But he left a scar too. Sometimes I can feel it – running along the outside of my heart -the jagged edges I sewed together to close up the cavity he left when he left us behind. It’s not a pretty scar. I was only a child, not a surgeon. But I needed to stop the bleeding…to keep the life from spilling out of me…to stop the world from getting in.

Like the scars on my face, this heart-scar is a part of me. It’s the only heart I’ve ever known, shaped by so many memories: memories I love and memories I loathe, memories I can’t remember and memories I never made at all, but could have, had he stayed.

Scarred hearts beat funny sometimes. And they ache…for what was taken and what was never let in.

Looking in the mirror, I ask The Surgeon, “Will she be okay?”

He gently rests a hand – a hand carrying scars of his own – on my heart. Knowingly, his eyes smile into mine as he whispers, “We’ll have to wait and see.”

Confessions of Library Book Hoarder

My name is Nichole and I am a Library Book Hoarder.

Why am I telling you this? Well, first of all, there are apparently no support groups for this condition. (Actually, seems like there may be a bit of discrimination going on here. I’ve already tipped off the NYT, so I’m pretty sure you’ll be reading more about it any day.) So you’re my therapy. Plus, I think it’s time I just put it all out there. You guys have gotten to know me pretty well over the years so I’m laying it on the line. One more glimpse into the life and mind of me.

Now, I know you’re tempted to think I’m making a big deal about nothing, but when a person hasn’t stepped foot in her local library for over six years because she owes over $55 in fines, you know she has a problem. And when that problem starts to affect her family, her children, then you know for certain.

The last time my 13 year old borrowed a book from the library was when she went with a friend in 3rd grade. Imagine this little peanut of a girl, long dark brown hair, clutching her library books to her chest, looking up at the librarian with wide, brown eyes – which look even wider behind her royal blue, plastic-framed glasses. Poor little girl, she’s nervous already, because she knows – even at this innocent age – she knows what’s coming:

“Oh my! Your mommy owes a lot of money to the library,” says the librarian.

“Uh…ok,” she replies meekly.

“Well, I’ll let you take these books today….but tell your mom, she needs to come in and pay these fines.”

She told me, alright. It’s the first thing she said when she walked through the front door. On and on about how embarrassed she was, how ashamed. And let me tell you, she wasn’t kidding. Now, if I so much as mention the library, she practically starts shaking all over. I think she might be scarred for life.

Great. Now I need to find a support group for my kids: Children of LBHs.

Whenever we need any kind of book or want to borrow a museum pass, I send my husband or oldest daughter with their cards. (I think that sometimes they go together for moral support.) And while they’re checking out, they wait with bated breath – will the computer cross check their last names or address with their fugitive mother/wife? Surely, alarms will start blaring at any moment, rotating beams of bright red lights will flash around the room as bars slide over all the windows and exits and members of the Overdue Library Fees Enforcement Squad, fully armed and dressed in black, emerge from the walls shouting, “Down on your knees. Hands on your head. We have you surrounded.”

By the time they get back to the car, beads of sweat cover their foreheads and I half expect them to say, “Got it…drive!”

And I have no excuse. None, whatsoever. On a snowy day, in heavy traffic, our local library is, at most, 10 minutes from my house. We have two cars (three if my daughter’s home from college). And I probably drive by the building at least once a week. So getting there is not an issue.

And, if I am laying it all on the table, then you should know that my next door neighbor and dear friend, God bless her, is a town librarian; and she has offered to return my books for me whenever she goes to work – which is four days a week. So I literally could walk 40 feet out my front door to return my library books on time. No excuse!

But you see, what happens is, I forget. And then, once the books are late, I’m embarrassed and ashamed, (maybe that’s the issue I need to take to the psych’s couch – seems a bit dramatic now that I’m typing it all out), so embarrassed that I don’t even want to tell my neighbor and the longer I wait the worse it gets. So that months later, I find myself driving to the library under cover of darkness, stuffing the evidence in the night drop, hoping to high heaven there’s no cameras on me. (Yeah, I know they’ll know it’s me when they scan in the bar codes, but there’s just something about being seen…sooo…yeah, I’m basically acting like at toddler.) Anyway, that’s pretty much what happened the last time my books were late. You know, six years ago.

A couple years later – let that sink in – a couple years later, I was cleaning one of the girls’ bedrooms and came across a Spot the Dog board book.

Wow, this looks an awful lot like that book I convinced the librarians I had returned, I thought.

Slowly, with trepidation, I turn to the back cover and there it is, in big letters: “Property of the Simsbury Public Library.” Shame, fear, dread and embarrassment wash over me and I can’t help but think, I am the worst person in the world! I have stolen a library book. What kind of a person steals a library book? Sure, I didn’t mean it. I really, really believed I had returned it. I didn’t mean to lie to the librarian. Is it a lie if you think it’s the truth when you’re telling it?

That’s when I knew that I couldn’t go to the library anymore. I had tried to reform, to change my ways, but I couldn’t break the cycle of failure, guilt and shame. Finding that book was the last straw.

At first, buying books instead of borrowing them wasn’t so bad. I owed $55 after all. But the cost added up quickly. Imagine having to BUY all your youngest child’s summer reading books. I know I don’t have to. She could use her own card. But after her traumatic encounter with the dues enforcing librarian, I couldn’t risk putting her through that again. It’s just too cruel.

Last year, my husband bought me a Kindle Fire. I love my Kindle Fire. But even the cost of these e-books adds up after a while (kind of pricey for books that don’t have to be printed, bound or shipped, but what do I know).

Then, somewhat recently, the libraries in Connecticut significantly expanded their e-book selection. (Sure, I may be 17th on the waiting list for The Great Gatsby, but I can instantly download Sophie Kinsella’s I’ve Got Your Number!) So now I can borrow books for free and the best part is…..they automatically take them back from me after 21 days!!! AU-TO-MATICALLY!  No guilt. No shame. No overdue fees. This is better than a support group. It’s medicine. It’s a solution.

Well, that was enough motivation for me to suck it up, go down to the library and pay my bill. I was half-expecting to find my photo plastered on the wall behind the check-out counter, along with the rest of the Library’s Ten Most Wanted. Good news! That didn’t happen. Nor did the librarian on duty take it upon herself to chastise me. She was rather quiet, actually, which makes sense; she is a librarian, after all. And even better news!!! If you wait long enough and let your library card expire – which mine had – you only have to pay a maximum fine of $40. So I actually saved a little over $15! That was a week ago, and I’ve already read two free, library e-books!

I know, it’s kind of sad that I have to rely on someone else to discipline me because I can’t do it myself, but at some point, a person just has to accept her limits, right?

Now, if I could only find a similar system to take away the Nestlé’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips after I’ve eaten half the bag in one sitting……..

Recognizing God’s Voice

Dear friends, I have a new post on our church’s 40 Days blog. Here is a taste, then you can keep reading at their site if you like:

Photo by Rose Braverman

Photo by Rose Braverman

Recognizing God’s voice…that’s a phrase packed with will all sorts of potential reactions. Here’s some that come to mind:

  •  Oh, so now you think God is speaking to you. Great.
  •  I don’t hear God. I pray. I meditate. I sit in silence. But guess what? Crickets.
  •  Umm…does this mean I’ll hear a voice? Or have a vision? Or fall down on the ground and start screaming and hollering? Because I really don’t want to cause a scene. Just sayin’.
  •  God has already spoken. The Bible is His final word.
  •  Are you hearing voices in your head?
  •  How do I know if what I hear is from God?
  •  I’m actually kind of afraid to hear from God. What if He’s angry with me? Or worse…what if He doesn’t say anything at all?

And of course there’s the unspoken fear of many comfortable Western Christians:

  • What if He tells me to sell all my belongings, shave my head and move to Zambia? ‘Cause that happens…like all the time…right?

Listening for the Lord, hearing from Him and then understanding what He’s saying can be scary and frustrating. But it can also be exhilarating, freeing and life-changing. I am grateful that some of my first experiences as a Christian included Listening Retreats. At those retreats...keep reading this post

A Love We Cannot Fathom

The other morning as I was praying for a friend, these words just poured out onto the pages of my journal. About halfway through, I realized that this message is not just for one particular friend (though it is certainly for you, my dear) but for all of us. Happy Easter, my friends.

What if we just stripped away all the theology, all the questions, all the seeming inconsistencies of life … and just let Jesus love us?

What if we took a step back from our toil, set down our work and opened our hands. I would like to sit in a chair – perhaps a rocking chair – and rest my tired feet and aching muscles. And then, what if we just sat back with nothing left to do but receive His love?

No need to labor over this or that. Forget about if you’re doing a “good enough” job. Stop fretting over whether you said this right or thought that right. Just stop and let Him love you.

Because His love just is. There is nothing you can do to change it. You can’t increase His love or decrease His love. His love has no limits – past, present or future. His love is perfect, bottomless and complete. God’s love just is.

So what if instead of thinking about love, trying to figure it out, you just sit back, relax and open your heart?

You may say that you don’t get it – this love. You wonder, how can you receive His love when you can’t even fathom it? Here’s the thing: you will never truly be able to fathom the depths of His love because it’s His love… and He is God.

But you can experience His love. You can receive His love.

When you were a child, you didn’t understand or fathom your parents’ love. How could you? An infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager can’t know what it is to love with a parent’s love. They can’t even begin to understand such love.

Oh, but they receive it! Like a dry sponge, they soak in every ounce of love their parents will give them.

And so it is with God. We don’t have to understand His love….we just have to receive it.

He loves us. Whether we love Him or not. His love never changes, never runs out, never gives up. His love for us, for me, for you… just is.

And this love is more faithful, more powerful, more rich and deep and warm and consuming and freeing and nourishing and redeeming and forgiving and compassionate and nurturing and constant

Photo by natasha555

Photo by natasha555

and merciful and gracious and fierce and healing and completely free… than any love we’ve ever known.

His is a love we cannot fathom. But it is a love that is ours.

Let go of your toil. Let go of your work. Let go of your need to figure it all out. Let go of every last shred, every little thread, every tiny cord of control. Let go so that you can open your hands and receive.

Let go. Let go. Let go. And let Him love you. Let Him have you.

He waits. He waits at the gates of your heart for the moment you will turn the lock, pull back the heavy doors and let Him in.

He waits. He longs to give Himself to you. Receive Him. He is yours.

YOLO or YOLOL ~ A Post for the New Year

I admit it. I had to Google YOLO to find out what it means. (I guess I really am almost 40.)

YOLO: You Only Live Once.

True enough. I really don’t want to debate reincarnation in this post, so let’s leave it at that for now.

You Only Live Once. Like many catch phrases, YOLO can inspire us.

Of course, some people just use it as an excuse to act like an idiot.

That’s the way with words. They’re powerful, but the direction of that power depends on the meaning we give them.

After reading the Facebook debates about YOLO – is it about getting drunk or skydiving, making your life count or experiencing everything possible – I began to wonder…is there a better motto to live by? One that captures the essence of YOLO but with more lasting impact?

Not that I’m a big “motto to live by” person. Because, really, most mottos are formulas and most formulas don’t survive the tests of life. If we had formulas, we wouldn’t need God.

Anyway…I was mulling it over (yes, I said “mulling”) and here’s what I got – I mean it literally popped into my head:

YOLOL. You Only Leave One Legacy.

Isn’t that a better perspective? If you’re really going to make this life count, forget about living for the moment, feeding your selfish desires, amassing a fortune or making a name for yourself. And consider your legacy.

I believe that as a culture we’re in danger of forgetting what it means to leave a legacy. We live selfishly, haphazardly blazing a trail that future generations will have to navigate. What are we leaving them? What will be their inheritance?

We spend money in the hopes of getting through the week, the month or the next debt ceiling increase.

We spend time – on the computer, the TV, at the amusement park (umm…guilty!) – because we’re tired and just want a little something for ourselves…right now.

We spend energy, talent and gifts and when we don’t see results, we get discouraged. Because that track plays over and over again in our minds: You’re wasting your time! Life is short! You Only Live Once!

But the thing is, making a difference takes time. Often more time than this life offers us. And that’s where the legacy part comes in.

Our family just spent a week in Disney World.

Have you any idea of the reach, influence and extent of Walt Disney’s legacy? From animation to movies to music to clothing to Broadway to amusement parks to agriculture to technology to philanthropy to I don’t even know what else, Disney is doing it and they’re doing it all over the world.

Walt Disney started out with nothing and every time he found success, he leveraged it to try something new. For a wealthy man, he sure was broke a lot – mortgaging everything he and his family members had multiple times. He could have left his success in the bank, put up his feet and enjoyed the good life. But Walt never stopped dreaming, because he never stopped thinking about the future…and the generations to come.

In 1966, before construction began on Walt Disney World Resort, Walt died. He only lived once. But just look at his legacy.

Recently, a missionary visited our church. He and his family serve a people who are very “closed” to the gospel. And naturally, this family often feels discouraged. They live in a hut in Africa, walk to a well for water, grow vegetables, dig latrines, fight malaria, parasites, cultural challenges and spiritual battles. All for what? The villagers still practice Islam and witchcraft and polygamy and spousal abuse.

But they found encouragement in the sacrifices of other missionaries. Missionaries with stories like Nate Saint, who, in the beginning of his mission to the Waodani people of Ecuador, was brutally murdered by the very ones he longed to reach with the gospel of Christ.

To some, Nate’s life and death may appear futile. But just look at his legacy: Despite their grief, Nate’s family stayed in Ecuador and today, approximately one in six Waodani are believers. Nate’s son, Steve, considers the Waodani his family.

Jesus lived a mere 30 something years on Earth. He was conceived out of wedlock, poor and nothing special to look at. He was tortured, nailed to a tree and mocked by those He came to save. He suffered the agony wrought by all humanity’s sin, endured the rejection of his Father and paid a penalty undeserved. He died a criminal’s death and was buried in a borrowed tomb.

He left behind a handful of confused followers including His mother, a formerly demon-possessed woman and some guys who were so freaked out for their own safety, they locked themselves away in the second floor of someone’s home.

At first glance this doesn’t look like a successful approach to the whole YOLO thing.

But just look at His legacy.

YOLOL.

What’s yours going to be?

Answers

“I am intellectually empty and vacant.” Those are the words one minister spoke to his congregation last Sunday. Not as a man without hope, but as one honestly acknowledging that he had come to the end of himself. There was nothing that the intellectual, rational part of his being could do with the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut.

We are all a little desperate today.

The following, somewhat paraphrased, quote from the movie Love Comes Softly, keeps running through my mind:

“When we’re hurting, we spend an awful lot of time looking for answers, when what we really need is comfort.”

I believe we need that truth now more than ever.

Now, as the shock wears off and the anger surfaces. Now, while we search for someone to punish. Now, when we are grasping for reason. Clinging to frayed hopes for humanity. Now, as we race to protect our children and ourselves. As we try to control the uncontrollable, rationalize the irrational and console the inconsolable.

Now – when we are searching, desperately searching for answers, we must remember where to look.

I have wrestled with pain before – pain that the world can do nothing to ease. I have searched for answers.  I have railed against God. Pounded on His chest and screamed, “WHY?!!!”

Then God asked me: “What answer would satisfy you?”

So, I imagined the God of the universe standing before me and saying, “Nichole, you have suffered because ______.” But every word I used to fill in the blank fell short of my expectations. No answer sufficed. Every time – every time – my response was, “Well, you’re God. Surely you could have done it another way.”

Some pain is too deep, some things too extraordinary to understand.

20 children shot dead and hundreds more traumatized, scarred for life. Surely there was another way!

When Job lost everything he had – family, health, business, friends, position in society – he cried out to the Lord for an answer. The Lord answered out of the storm. But probably not in the way Job expected:

“Brace yourself like a man;
    I [God] will question you [Job],
    and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
 while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?”

Can you just imagine His booming voice, like the rushing wind or crackling thunder? Continuing like that for several more chapters, (Job 38-41) God’s answer hardly seems like an answer at all. It rather seems like…a rebuke.

But what answer would have satisfied Job? Would he have actually found comfort in knowing that God allowed Satan to sift him like wheat?

God is so good. He knew what Job needed better than Job himself.

Instead of speaking to Job’s intellect, God reveals Himself to Job’s heart. And Job responds:

“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know….

My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

God didn’t give Job an answer. God WAS the answer.

Finally, Job surrenders. He stops his frantic search. He lays down his quiver of accusations. Throws himself on the ground and vomits up the bile of his bitter, grieving heart. He has seen the Lord and at last, he rests. At last, he finds comfort.

Grief, sorrow, pain. Harbor these waters of affliction and your wells will turn bitter and run dry. But let them flow, let your tears rain down, seek comfort in the arms of your Father, and there you will find the waters of life. (Oddly enough my blog last month was about grieving. You can read it here if you would like to explore this topic further.)

To my grieving fellow Connecticutians and Americans, what arrows are in your quiver? Strung on your bow? Acts of retribution? Making someone pay? Judgment? Or acts of morality? Giving financially to victims? Social activism? Or acts of self-protection? Fear? Isolation?  Not all of these things are bad, but do them – even the “good” ones – without receiving comfort and you will be like Job, like I once was, perhaps even like the perpetrators you despise – weary, bitter, empty and isolated.

Can you admit, like the minister did, that you are intellectually vacant? Can you fall at the feet of the One and Only Answer you will ever need? Can you let Him be enough? Because He Is. He Was. He Will Always Be, the only Answer that satisfies. The One in whom all questions fade away.

This is one of my favorite songs and as music often does, it says more in 3 minutes than I could in a thousand years.

Healing Rain

I Had a Dream….no really, I did!

I was with my youngest daughter, Christina, and a friend. We stood in a vast, barren landscape of dry, scraggly hills covered with natural debris. I didn’t look at the sky but it must have been sunless, because everything was gray, ashen.

I am bent over a pile of withered, cracked branches – branches much longer than I am tall and about the thickness of a baseball bat. The branches are so dry, they’ve begun to turn white. I kneel down, curious. Lifting up a few branches to see what lies beneath, I notice they’re stuck in some sort of gray mire. An old riverbed! The mire reeks of decay. 

I lift my head. To my left are three dead owls.

Nothing lives here.

I stand and look around. I see now – the hills and valleys are actually the stony banks and dry beds of countless rivers and creeks. Each one filled with desiccated branches.  Everywhere my eyes scan: parched, lifeless land.

A moment later, I am at an old farmhouse. Not mine. My grandmother’s? My mother’s? I think we’re on vacation. My entire family is there. Even my grandparents, who’ve long since passed.

My grandma’s in the kitchen. There’s a child sleeping on an over sized chair. Is it Christina? Or am I seeing myself?

I step out the screen door and the sky looms heavy, oppressive, dark. Drizzle dots my skin. I sigh and think, “Ugh, rain. Another family vacation day ruined.” Then I remember the dry riverbed. I put my hand out to catch the drizzle. “No. Not enough to make a difference.”

Next, I am standing outdoors. Christina and I are by the street, facing the white farmhouse. She seems younger in my dream.  My friend stands in the yard, facing us. Behind her there’s a little vegetable garden. And I have a sense that my grandma is watching us through the embroidered café curtains of the kitchen window.

It starts to rain. And pour. And pour. For a moment I am disappointed. Rain on vacation.

I look at the ground beneath my feet. Mud. So much water the ground can’t hold. My skin, my hair – soaked. What a mess! What a…

I remember: The dry riverbeds. The barren wasteland. This rain – it’s falling there too!

I turn my palms heavenward and lift my face to the rain. Rain will quench the parched land and fill thirsty riverbeds. Perhaps the rain did not come when I wanted, as I expected, but it came and it is good.

What do you do with a dream like that? What do you make of it? I would love to hear your thoughts. It has been a couple of weeks and God is still speaking to me about it.

I should tell you that this dream came on the night of Tuesday, November 6 – Election Night 2012. Hmmmm….

I should also tell you that our church is in the midst of a spiritual emphasis we call “Pray for Reign.” Together, we are praying for God to reign in our lives, individually and corporately, and that His spirit would rain down on us and on our land.

Back when Pray for Reign began, I fell in love with this song Waiting for the Rain by Misty Edwards:

“..I’m waiting in the desert, just waiting for the rain…”  

This weekend, I had the privilege of being with a friend while she grieved. As I watched her cry, God gave me a sort of vision: I glimpsed dry riverbeds, like the ones in my dream, deep in her soul. And they were being watered by her tears. The beauty of it took my breath away. The eyes of my heart began to see…to understand grief differently:

Loss of any kind leaves an empty space in our hearts. If we hold on to that loss or run away from it, that hole becomes an dry, decaying ditch. What water is left, sours from the rotting branches of bitterness – those worthless things we use to fill our hollow spaces. Then it happens again…and again, so that one day, we look around at the expanse of our souls, and see acres upon acres devoured by loss. An emaciated wasteland.

Nothing lives here.

“…oh but I won’t leave this desert, until I see the rain…”

More often than not, God won’t bring back what was lost – people die, dreams are dashed, life changes, friends move away, bodies grow weak. All this life…it’s just a letting go.

I have wrestled with this. I have burned with rage. I have desperately asked. I have silently cried. Then came peace – or at least the hope of peace: Nichole, every empty cavern, every hollow grave, is a place for Me to enter. Everything I take away, creates more room for Me.

This life is loss. I can rail against reality – rail against Him – or I can accept what’s true and give Him space to rain…to reign.

“… I can see the clouds gatherin’ now…are you ready…are you ready for the rain?”

Are you ready for the rain? When God sends it, will you let it fall?

Will you?

Because the rain that fills our dry riverbeds will not fall from the sky. The rain that soaks our shriveled souls, will fall from our eyes. Our very eyes.

Grief is a gift from God. A well to the deep healing waters of heaven. Let Him rain.

Lament your loss. Mourn what’s missing. Cry out in your pain.

I had a dream. God reigned.

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43:19