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

When Thanksgiving is a Sacrifice

I don’t want give thanks. Sorry, Ann Voskamp, but my heart can’t hear you now.

I gaze at the starry sky, watch thunderheads roll out over the ocean and lightning bolts streak from the clouds to the water; I stand in speckled green sunlight beneath rows of cypress trees draped with Spanish moss…and I don’t want to say, thank you.

Because to accept these things, these moments, as gifts, and to open my heart to offer thanks, feels wrong somehow. More than wrong. It actually hurts.

To thank Him for what He’s given, reminds me of what He’s taken. Thanksgiving requires receiving. And to receive I must open my hand, my heart…see, feel the ugly, weeping wound. To receive, I must let go.

He gives and takes away.

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Thankfulness | Searching for God as for Hidden Mickeys…er…Treasure

Wall art in Morocco, EPCOT | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

During a recent trip to Disney World, our family hunted day and night for Hidden Mickeys – symbolic representations of Mickey Mouse in the iconic three-circle shape, inserted subtly in the design of rides, attractions and artwork throughout the park. And we found them: created by white paint stains on a desk in Spaceship Earth, in the paintings along the Maharajah Jungle Trek in Animal Kingdom, as a three-dimensional object formed out of metal bands in a Living with the Land water tank, in the mosaic walls of The Coral Reef restaurant and more.

At The Coral Reef | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

The only reward for discovering a Hidden Mickey is the excitement and satisfaction you experience upon finding one. And yet, in a park that offers some of the best entertainment in the world, our family couldn’t get enough of this game. We’d be zipping along on some ride and one of us would point and shout, “Hidden Mickey!” while the others craned their necks, trying to catch a glimpse of the shape before being whisked away. We were treasure hunting.

Maybe, like me, you love treasure hunting: searching for something hidden, something hard to find, or maybe even something that’s right before your eyes but if you really pay attention you realize it’s more than you thought…more than a paint stain…more than a few random pieces of metal.

Some of you may insist this desire stems from our need to hunt for food or what-not. Snore. Treasure hunting is about more than survival. It’s about finding something valuable, precious, unique or rare.

A couple of years ago, I read the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. (Check out her blog aholyexperience.com.) In her book, she writes, rather poetically, about the power of thankfulness – but not in a trite “count your blessings and be happy” kind of way. By sharing from her own life journey and study of the Word, she illustrates that even in the face of great difficulty, we can find things for which to be thankful. And that in gratitude, there lies great power…power to release, heal, transform…because “thanksgiving…always precedes the miracle.” (p.35)

Her book inspired me to begin my own gratitude journal, writing down things for which I am thankful. First came the obvious, like family, God, shelter, food; then came crocuses in spring, warm pajamas, books, strawberries, hot showers, sunsets in Cape Breton, finding sea glass with the girls, eating popsicles with the family during a break from yard work, licorice tea, butterflies migrating through our yard, lemonade, thunderstorms, the root canal that brought relief, a spontaneous hike with a friend, a full night’s sleep, medicine for a sick daughter away at college and caught in a blizzard, Anne of Green Gables, and on and on and on.

When practicing thankfulness and gratitude, life itself becomes a treasure hunt, a search for the valuable, precious, unique and rare.

One sunny spring day, as I stood in the driveway with hundreds of little helicopter seeds from our maple tree swirling in the air around me, I thanked God for the beauty of his creation. A sense of childlike wonder filled my being and I smiled with inexplicable joy…

Hidden Mickey - Thunder Mountain

Hidden Mickey, Thunder Mountain Railroad | Photo from Wikipedia

On some days, I feel like life is mostly about losing…losing everything…losing everyone. And in some ways, that’s true. Life is loss. And I hurt. My girls grow up and out and away from me. And my grandparents pass away. And family gets busy and sometimes pain divides us. Even my body and mind betray me and I can’t stand the skin I’m in. How can I escape myself? The pain is painful and the emptiness feels like a black hole and I think, Why? Why God? Why so much loss? So much letting go?

And then I remember that every loss, every emptiness, is space for Him to enter, so that what was once barren can be filled again. Thankfulness lets Him in and I am filled. 

Not because I made a list. Not because I’ve had good experiences. Not even because, as most Americans, I have more than many ever will.

I am content because God has everything. Or more importantly, because God is everything. At least, He is everything that matters.

I am not saying that God and His gifts are one and the same. Rather, His gifts are an expression of who He is. By giving, He opens a doorway to the greater gift: Himself. Our gratitude lets Him in.

And then, with our thanksgiving, we give Him ourselves. It’s all we really have to offer Him anyway. And it’s exactly what He came for.

Maharajah Jungle Trek Mural, Animal Kingdom | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

So what if every day we hunted for God’s hidden treasures like hunting for Hidden Mickeys? Could we find ourselves driving down the road with our family, pointing and shouting, “Look at the sun on the river!” …or opening the windows on a rainy night and whispering, “Shhh….can you hear the rain on the tree tops?” and savoring the scent of wet pavement…or hearing a baby wailing in the store and thinking, “The sound of new life.” …or holding the door for an elderly man, even though you’re in a hurry, and remembering that he is worth your time…could we?

Could we stop to ponder what those gifts tell us about our Father God? Could we thank Him and be filled, not with stuff or feelings, but with Him, very God Himself?

As I stood in my driveway, caught in a whirlwind of helicopters and giddy with joy, I marveled at God’s handiwork, how he designed the seeds to fly and the wind to carry them and the soil to nourish them. I wondered at His ability and desire to create such varied and complex life. I soaked in the warmth of a sun that burns at His command. And in that moment, I knew Him.

He gave and opened the way. My gratitude let Him in. With thanksgiving, I gave Him myself.

And then a miracle happened.

I knew Him.

I know Him.

And knowing Him is the greatest treasure of all.

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I think the following song, 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman, (one of my favorites) beautifully captures the joy of thankfulness: