Out of Darkness, Light | A Christmas Poem

Special Stars by James Wheeler| CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Special Stars by James Wheeler| CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tough year to find time, energy and inspiration for a Christmas post. So I am resharing last year’s. I hope it blesses you. 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

Continue reading “Out of Darkness, Light | A Christmas Poem”

No Strings Attached | Why I Stopped Defending God

DONE DEFENDING GOD

I’m done defending God. To family. To friends. To you. To the world. But most of all, I’m done defending God to myself.

I gave it up several weeks ago – cold turkey, as they say – when something masquerading as a gift appeared nearby. Something that for now brings smiles and dreams that buzz through skin like the flush of red wine. But like all young things, it carries the seeds of its own potential destruction. Beneath the shiny, crimson skin there lurks a poison. And I lie awake at night wondering which will be the fatal bite: the first, the fifth, the fiftieth?

Photo by Aphrodite | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Photo by Aphrodite | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Enraged would be a mild description of how I feel. Because I see what’s coming. I see a day when this imposter dressed in pretty colors slips off her overcoat to reveal the disappointment, the heartbreak. And I don’t want to watch my people hurt anymore.

What really burns is knowing that God could have prevented this. He could have prevented this. But He didn’t. So here I am. Watching helplessly. Again.

I am tempted to try to talk myself out of this reality, to convince myself that God will do things differently this time…that He has a good reason…a bigger plan…a better plan.

It’s a thing we learn to do as Christians – to tell ourselves who God really is in spite of what the world tells us. As if we know who He really is. As if we can understand what He’s really doing.

RUMORS OF GOD

I know I’m probably freaking some of you out at this point, right? After all, aren’t we supposed to preach the gospel to ourselves, battle the lies with the truth of His word? Aren’t those good things? Yes, they are…until they aren’t.

Until they become just another work of the flesh, another attempt to figure God out, define the boundaries of who He is, carve out features we recognize, features that make us feel safe, or strong or big or small or whatever it is we think we need at the time.

So when confronted with this new circumstance, I was tempted to run and hide myself in the “truth”. I told myself things like “God won’t hurt her” and “If He does, it’s only for her good” and yada, yada, yada. But none of it rang true. Like oil on water, these “truths” refused to sink in. Because they weren’t real. They weren’t actually true.

What evidence do we have that God won’t hurt us? Or if He does, that it’s only for our good? Look at Job, for crying out loud. What did he get out of that hot mess? Nothing. Except, perhaps, a very painful learning experience, which he probably could have done just fine without.

As far as we can tell, God made Job suffer because of a bet He made with Satan.

And when, after immeasurable loss and suffering, Job finally presses God for an explanation, God doesn’t even try to defend himself. He doesn’t say “OK, here’s all the reasons I needed to let you suffer. Here’s why I’m still good. Here’s why you can still trust me.”

Not even close. Rather He turns on His booming master-of-the-universe voice and basically tells Job to suck it.

Where were you when I created the earth?
Tell me, since you know so much!
….Now what do you have to say for yourself?
Are you going to haul me, the Mighty One, into court and press charges? (Job, MSG)

Those are the bookends of a long speech in which God’s singular defense is His own awesomeness. He’s like “Job, shut up. Listen. I’m God. You think you can do the things I do? You think you can understand the things I understand? Well, you can’t. So just stop.”

It’s like the biggest non-answer answer in the history of the world. Jesus often used the same tactic. People asked a question and Jesus answered with a question.

And why shouldn’t He, when we go to Him demanding reasons or explanations that we can cut and measure and stack and cobble into an image of a god we can understand – a god we can shape and mold and fit into our human-sized minds. A god we can handle.

Even answers can become an idol. Even reasons and understanding and explanations can become gods if we want them more than we want God himself.

Job learned that the hard way.

I admit I once lived by rumors of you;
now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! (Job, MSG)

Isn’t that what we do? We settle for rumors of God. Because a god whose motives and means we can understand…that’s a god we can control – a predictable god, a safe god, a god we can carry.

Only we’re so busy creating this god we can carry, we forget that what we really need is a God Who can carry us.

So I’m done listening to the rumors – yours, mine, anybody’s – about who God is. And I’m done feeding them to you. Because God doesn’t need defending. He didn’t defend himself to Job. He didn’t defend Himself on Calvary. So I’m pretty sure He’s not waiting on me to defend Him to anyone, including myself.

So from now on, when I look at God and see someone who’s always setting me up for the fall, like Lucy to Charlie Brown, I won’t try to convince myself otherwise.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe that’s not who He is, but if He wants me to know that, He can show me. It’s really up to Him, don’t you think?

NO STRINGS ATTACHED – A VISION

At around the same time that I made the decision to stop defending God, (which by the way is rather freeing) I had a “vision” of sorts. I was praying during worship (on THP, which I figure my daughter would like to know) and I saw this image of thousands and thousands of strings. And each string was attached on one end to God in heaven and on the other end, to a circumstance of my life here on earth. In that moment, I realized that my understanding of the Lord has always been tied to my circumstances, because I let life – the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly – define Him.

Then I saw giant shears, snipping away at the strings, five, 10, 20 at a time. And I heard God say, “No strings attached. Now, you will get to know me with no strings attached.”

And isn’t that what Job did? Isn’t that what it’s like to follow God with no explanations? No neat and tidy reasons?

I will not tie God to my circumstances anymore. For better or for worse. That means that bad things aren’t evidence of a bad God. And good things aren’t evidence of a good God. And I will just have to wait here to find out who He is.

I said before that it’s freeing – not defending God. It’s also terrifying. Like stepping off the edge of a cliff without a net.

I’m not gonna lie. It’s been painful. Painful. But it’s also real. And real is so much better than rumors.

Because above all else, I want my God to be real. It starts there, don’t you think? Because if He isn’t real, nothing else matters.

So I’ve been waiting. Afraid. Hurting. Angry. Doubtful.

And then one recent Sunday, I had the privilege of helping orchestrate a special communion service focused on the King of Love. While preparing for communion, the congregation reflected on which aspect of God’s love meant the most to them over the last year. People then wrote that word down on a piece of paper and, upon going up for communion, dropped their cards in a basket. During the remainder of worship, I categorized the cards and handed them to a friend who painted the words on a canvas, which our pastor revealed later, during his message about loving our enemies.

Photo by Nichole Q Perreault
Photo by Nichole Liza Q. 

The service was powerful. (Listen here if you want!)

But for me, the sweetest moment came as I sat on the floor surrounded by hundreds of cards all proclaiming God’s active love for the person who penned each word.

Some cards shared the same word but each was unique, written by a different hand, a different person, with a different life experience. I read them over and over as the song played on: “You don’t give your heart in pieces…You don’t hide yourself to tease us…Your live is wild…Your love is not ashamed to be seen with me.” (Pieces by Amanda Cook)

There, spread out before me, was evidence of the real God, manifest in the lives of my people. Broken, hurting, joyful, thriving, aching, loving, battling people.

There on a torn carpet, surrounded by bits of paper and ink, He revealed Himself to me.

Strong. Unshakeable. Relentless. Enough. Faithful. Unspeakable. Patient. Long-suffering. Steadfast. Like the spring rain. Merciful. Costly. Perfect.

Photo by Nichole Q Perreault
Photo by Nichole Liza Q. 

And I didn’t have to do a thing. I didn’t have to dig Him up or carve Him out or hunt Him down or figure Him out or defend Him to anyone, including myself.

“Here I am, Nichole.” It was as simple as that.

No strings attached.

© Nichole Liza Q.

—————————————————————–

Afraid to Pray

Morning Prayer at Tilghman Island Narrows by 57RRoberts | CC BY-SA 3.0
Morning Prayer at Tilghman Island Narrows by 57RRoberts | CC BY-SA 3.0

I’m afraid to pray.

Not the talking-to-God-throughout-the-day kind of prayers. I’ve reached a point in my life where talking to Him is almost automatic – so much so that NOT talking to Him would require serious effort.

I’m talking about the petitioning prayers. The God-heal-my-friend prayers. The God-fix-this-relationship prayers. The God-show-us-what-to-do prayers.

For weeks, we prayed for my brother’s healing. For weeks, hundreds of people all around the world prayed for my brother’s healing. And there were miracles along the way, days when he defied the doctors’ predictions. Like when he started breathing on his own after a week on the respirator, or when he was readmitted to ICU for internal bleeding and the bleeding miraculously stopped, or when his kidneys began to work again after weeks on dialysis. And we praised God for the miracles and for answering the prayers of many.

The last week of Derek’s life, doctors planned to discharge him. Every day for three days, we waited. And every day for three days, they said, one more day. Until the last day, when they moved him, for the third and final time, back to ICU. He never came home.

Even though I know God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want…and even though I know people suffer and die every day…that we all die some day…that eventually God stops answering our prayers for healing and calls us all home…and even though I know God is unchanging and good and that His ways are higher than our ways…and even though I know that prayer is a mystery…that somehow God invites us to participate with Him in His divine plan but the outcome does not rely on us…even though I know all that, I’m still afraid to pray.

The pain and devastation, the feeling that God abandoned us – actually tricked us with answered prayer and then pulled the rug out from under our feet – snaps at the heels of my heart and mind like an angry dog. And I can’t run away.

Continue reading “Afraid to Pray”

Finding Hope in God’s Plan (Even When Life Seems Hopeless)

Photo by J.Perreault. Used with permission.
Photo by J.Perreault. Used with permission.

The following was written as a devotional for our church’s Faith Quest 2015 team. Our theme this year is God’s Plan, Our Hope. 

As I prepared for this devotional, my first thought was, After the last two months, maybe I’m not the best person to write a message about finding hope in God’s plan. Perhaps a different Nichole, from a different time, a Nichole with a lighter heart with feathers and wings, might have something to say about hope. So I pored over my blog archives and, even though a few posts came close, nothing was quite right.

That’s when I decided to skip the devotional this year. After all, who reads it anyway? And then I heard that still, small voice saying, Maybe God wants you to dig into this topic for a reason. 

So here I am, dreading the dredging of my black, inky soul, the drawing out of the ugly and the real. Cringing as each keystroke scars this white page. Because right now, I’m not really a fan of God’s plan – at least the part of His plan I can see.

Continue reading “Finding Hope in God’s Plan (Even When Life Seems Hopeless)”

Waiting for Morning

Illuminate the Dark Room by bavometh | CC BY-NC 3.0
Illuminate the Dark Room by bavometh | CC BY-NC 3.0

I often hear people say something like, “Joy is eternal. You can’t always be happy but you can always have joy.”

Lately, I feel the opposite. I can laugh with family and friends, smile to greet someone I know, enjoy a dinner out or a walk through my garden. But those happy moments drift unsupported over a dark abyss. I have no joy.

I want to believe God when He says Joy comes in the morning but there is no joy in this mourning. In this mourning, emptiness reigns, like a void that devours light and robs breath from your lungs.

Even in the midst of blessings, of sunshine and daisies and ice cream at the farm and family movies and just being an American with clean water and shelter and food in the pantry, I can be happy – grateful even – but I have no joy.

Does this make me a bad Christian? Is my faith too small? Am I far from God?

Continue reading “Waiting for Morning”

Desperate

Photo by Alexander Shustov | Public Domain CC0
Photo by Alexander Shustov | Public Domain CC

Have you ever been desperate for God? To feel Him holding you, to know He sees you, to hear Him speak to you?

So desperate that if He were standing before you, you would climb into His lap, bury your trembling body between His shoulders and will Him to wrap you tightly in His arms?

But He’s not, is He? Standing before you, that is.

He’s not standing before me – not in a reach-out-and-touch-Him-with-my-hands kind of way. And some days, that’s the way I need Him.

Today. That’s the way I need Him today.

Sometimes we experience God’s embrace through the arms of another person, a hug, a squeeze of the hand. Or we see Him looking out at us through the eyes of a friend. Or we hear Him speaking to us on the lilt of their words.

Only I’m alone.

And even God’s word feels foreign to me. No. Rather, I feel foreign to God’s word. Impenetrable.

Continue reading “Desperate”

Crucify Me

Photo by Sean McGrath | CC BY 2.0
Photo by Sean McGrath | CC BY 2.0

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.

Continue reading “Crucify Me”

Unbreak Me

Memories reach up and out of
the dark places
long fingers that
grasp and grab and wrap around
the tendrils of my thoughts
tangling some together
binding others apart
tinting truth the shade of shadows
nagging me, dragging me
down, down, down
until I’m drowning
in mud that sucks at my skin
and I shiver
cold to the bone.

Like the night we played
tether ball in the rain
until we were mud-caked
from hair to toenails.

But that was fun, wasn’t it?
We ate pizza at 10:30 and I said
it was the best night of my life.
I was six, so that was probably true.
Besides, the mud washed away
and I had a towel
and someone to cook me dinner.

But the downing, drowning,
sucking, mucking mud
pulls with all the weight
of leaded memories. Continue reading “Unbreak Me”

Prayers Like Snowflakes

Snowflakes 03 by Miingno | CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
Snowflakes 03 by Miingno | CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Do you ever wonder, as you slog through your list of prayers, does this matter? These words – in the form of petitions and praises and pleadings – do they matter?

Do you ever feel overwhelmed? Discouraged? I do.

So much heartache. So many needs. Needs that outnumber my prayers. Needs that outweigh my weightless, colorless, tuneless words.

Discouragement is stronger than gravity and can pull us down with a force that pins us to the lowest places, the cold, hard places so that we can’t even lift our heads to look up. And in comparison, our prayers seem to drift away like vapors in the wind.

One day, not too long ago, as I sat on my bed praying, I felt an emptiness and futility pressing in on me. I found myself asking,

How can these prayers I offer up today – please bring k peace, keep her safe and help her share your love with others today…completely heal and restore c… comfort my friend who misses her mother… save that marriage on the verge of divorce…bring that young man off the streets and into a rehab that will make a difference… – how can these prayers make a difference? How, God? It all seems so pointless. And I just feel like giving up.

And then I thought of snowflakes.

Continue reading “Prayers Like Snowflakes”

Out of Darkness, Light | A Christmas Poem

Special Stars by James Wheeler| CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Special Stars by James Wheeler| CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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

Continue reading “Out of Darkness, Light | A Christmas Poem”

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