The Prince of Peace

NativityEvery now and then, some­one in my life nudges me to write my mem­oir. I nod and make rea­son­able excus­es for putting it off. I’ve got this chil­dren’s series to fin­ish first; my com­pre­hen­sive work­shop notes require all my atten­tion; I’ve got a con­fer­ence keynote to pre­pare; my car needs a tune-up; the win­dows need wash­ing; isn’t it time for a pedi­cure? Some of these are actu­al­ly legit­i­mate oblig­a­tions, of course, but authen­tic or con­coct­ed, they all get in the way of progress on the memoir.

Some­day, I’ll get around to craft­ing a com­plete mem­oir, but God keeps telling me that it’s time to share a bit of it, right now. No, I don’t hear voic­es, except for the occa­sion­al char­ac­ter from one of my sto­ries. But God does effec­tive­ly com­mu­ni­cate to me through oth­er peo­ple, through my devo­tion­als, through his Word—pretty much any way that he can get my atten­tion. Which, I admit, can require a con­sid­er­able amount of effort on his part. Some­times, I can see God bang­ing his head against the wall of heav­en, say­ing, “What is with this chick? Is she deaf?” Of course, we both know that I’m not, and soon­er or lat­er, God gets through, and I tell him, like I did this morn­ing, “Okay, Lord. Mes­sage received.” He wants me to share, so I’ll share.

Ready? You’ll need to sit down for this one.

I once had a beau­ti­ful lit­tle girl named Taw­fiqa. If you’re a dear and espe­cial­ly old friend, you know that. Oth­er­wise, this may be news to you. I don’t talk about her much, most­ly because I don’t want to go there. In 1974, my gor­geous girl drowned in a pool at the babysit­ter’s. She was just shy of 4 years old. I won’t try to con­vey the depth of my grief, because it was bot­tom­less. Besides, lan­guage is thor­ough­ly inad­e­quate to the task. What I can tell you, though, is that, in all the years since, when­ev­er I learn of the death of a child—anyone’s child—my heart is hurled back to the emo­tion­al tsuna­mi of my own loss. What’s more, in those ago­niz­ing moments, noth­ing sep­a­rates me from the moth­er of that oth­er child. In that instant, the moth­er and I are one. As such, the mas­sacre in Con­necti­cut laid me low.

My imme­di­ate thoughts were not of the red-flag issues oth­ers raised fol­low­ing the massacre—gun con­trol, men­tal ill­ness, and the per­va­sive nature of vio­lence in our cul­ture. No. My imme­di­ate thoughts were of the moth­ers, whose hearts had just been ripped from their bod­ies, just like mine. No past tense was nec­es­sary. This kind of pain is present con­tin­u­ous. No lan­guage can approach or con­tain it.

Wrench­ing as this news was, and con­tin­ues to be, I know exact­ly where to go with my grief. I gath­er the shat­tered pieces of my heart, and the hearts of all those moth­ers, and fathers too, and lift them up to God in prayer. I’ve had a bit of practice.

When my daugh­ter died, all those years ago—yesterday?—a sound came out of me that was more ani­mal than human. Then, once I could catch my breath, I began to whis­per the most the­o­log­i­cal­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed prayer I could muster: Help me, God. Please, help me. I fol­lowed that with three days of fast­ing, at the end of which I asked Jesus to come into my life and fill me up. And he did. Best deci­sion ever!

Yeah, yeah, I know. You’ve heard it all before, but I don’t care. I had come to the end of myself, and I need­ed help to take that next breath. The child, who bare­ly filled that tiny cof­fin, was­n’t just any human being. This was the pre­cious soul I’d car­ried in my own body for nine months, the warm, wig­gling infant I’d nursed at my breast. This was flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, and her sud­den, hor­rif­ic, inex­plic­a­ble absence—from my life, from the world—sucked all the air from my lungs, and left me prone. The death of your child will do that to you. Even the mem­o­ry clogs my windpipe.

In those dark days, I need­ed solace, com­fort, and strength. I went to the Cross to find it, and I did. But I received some­thing more, in the bar­gain. I was grant­ed a gift of peace. I’m not talk­ing about some warm fuzzy feel­ing, or numb­ness, or the absence of pain. No. I’m talk­ing about an unfath­omable, pal­pa­ble, pure sense of peace about the loss of my child. Did that peace eclipse my grief? Not even for a mil­lisec­ond. But it did sus­tain me through­out my mourn­ing, and it gave me the assurance—no, the certainty—that there was both light and life-abun­dant for me at the end of this unimag­in­able, pain-paint­ed tun­nel. God’s peace made it pos­si­ble for me to live, heart open and hope­ful, going for­ward. And that, as they say, is worth shout­ing about.

In this tech­no­log­i­cal­ly evolved age, many in our cul­ture make light of the Chris­t­ian faith, but it is no feath­er on the wind. It is stub­born, and stur­dy, and more pow­er­ful than some imag­ine. What hap­pened in and through me in the days fol­low­ing my daugh­ter’s death made that clear to all those around me.

One evening, I got a call from the adult son of the babysitter—we’ll call her Jane. Jane, it seemed, was incon­solable. Since my daugh­ter’s drown­ing in her fam­i­ly’s pool, Jane had tak­en to bed, wracked with guilt, swim­ming in tears, and unable to func­tion. Her wor­ried son asked if I would please agree to see her. I did.

I vis­it­ed Jane’s home, the house in which my daugh­ter had breathed her last, and I found a woman bereft indeed. She was unable to care for, or even engage, her own chil­dren, safe in the next room. It was impos­si­ble that I should feel pity for her, but I did. I took her in my arms and I rocked her, and com­fort­ed her while she wept. I told her that I held no mal­ice toward her, that I did not blame her for my daugh­ter’s death. I’d leave it to God to sort out blame, I said. As for me, I clung to the belief that I would see my daugh­ter again, some day.

Slow­ly, Jane calmed down, and I gath­ered myself to leave. I encour­aged her to ral­ly her­self. After all, she had a fam­i­ly who des­per­ate­ly need­ed her. Then I left, nev­er to see Jane again.

I look back on that day, and I shake my head in won­der. Whose arms were those wrapped round the woman who was, at least indi­rect­ly, respon­si­ble for the death of my child? Those arms were God’s. He loved her through me, spoke words of for­give­ness and com­pas­sion through me, accom­plished some­thing I nev­er could have done on my own. When I talk about the pow­er of faith, and of God’s love, and of God’s peace, that’s what I’m talk­ing about. And when I think of those moth­ers in Con­necti­cut, it’s the love of Christ, and his heal­ing, and his per­fect peace that I pray for—for them. As for that bot­tom­less grief I men­tioned? Only God’s reach is long enough to touch it.

Each Christ­mas, as I the dec­o­rate the house and trim the tree, gath­er with loved ones and sip cider, write my Christ­mas poem and wrap presents, I remem­ber the gift of peace I received from the Prince of Peace him­self. His gift is avail­able to all who seek it, and that’s some­thing worth cel­e­brat­ing, isn’t it?

Mer­ry Christmas!

12 Responses

  1. Thank you Nikki:

    What a mirac­u­lous­ly brave woman and moth­er you are.
    My soul was touched in our God being able to use your
    will­ing­ness and love to reach out. The dark­ness is so hard. But we are not alone. 

    Thank you, with my heart, Lori

  2. NIk­ki… I often think of your loss of Taw­fiqa and won­der at the work God has wrought in your heart to make and keep you a lov­ing force for good in this world. I can only say that I know first hand that God’s love reach­es through you. I only wish I could have been there for you as you have been here for us. Thank you for shar­ing your own sto­ry now and for not lock­ing your moth­er’s heart away. I know it dri­ves so much of what you do.

  3. Read­ing your blog brought me to tears. I’ve nev­er lost a child, but I have two that I love very much and can­not even imag­ine liv­ing through their loss. Thank you for the reminder of how pow­er­ful and strong our God is. <3

  4. I lost my first child in mis­car­riage. I was blessed with 2 healthy liv­ing chil­dren after­wards, but your words brought back that pain from more than 30 years ago. God takes us through the dark­est times of our lives, those times when we hurt so bad­ly, we almost cease to func­tion. You are an author because you have a gift for shar­ing and reawak­en­ing those feel­ings so that it seems like yesterday.

  5. Beau­ty instead of ashes…thank you for shar­ing this tes­ti­mo­ny of Gods’ strong and ten­der arms when we are in despair and for his lis­ten­ing ears when we cry out to Him. Thank you, Nik­ki! Love you!

  6. Thank you so much for shar­ing this!!! I pray for those CT par­ents & friends too. I am seek­ing more of that peace myself. I know the incom­pre­hen­si­ble gift of God’s grace & there is noth­ing greater. Bless His Name!!

  7. Thank you, Nik­ki. You–and your story–have always been proof of God’s exis­tence for me. Only God can trans­form grief to gift–not leav­ing the grief behind, but deep­en­ing its dimen­sion to include hope. You are gen­er­ous and lov­ing to share this.

  8. Nik­ki, as always- your words touched my heart and made me want to be bet­ter, love more deeply, and give praise to the ONE who has giv­en us count­less bless­ings. Mer­ry Christmas!

  9. I have known you as an amaz­ing author of books on my school library shelf at Ran­cho San Joaquin Mid­dle School in Irvine, CA. Now I know you as a for­ev­er sis­ter in Christ and a believ­er who is shaped by Him as His mas­ter­piece to take a trag­ic and painful expe­ri­ence and through deep­en­ing trust in Him to empathize, though painful­ly again, with so many oth­ers and write what you have above. What a piece of “peace that pass­es under­stand­ing” that will serve as an instru­ment of His heal­ing process for griev­ers in this bro­ken world. I also thought of Eph­esians 2:10 in the New Liv­ing Trans­la­tion and remem­ber the Greek word for “mas­ter­piece” or in oth­er trans­la­tions “work­man­ship” is “poe­ma” from which we get our Eng­lish word “poem.” 10 For we are God’s mas­ter­piece… He has cre­at­ed us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.I heard a famous poet speak about how poems speak to col­lec­tive souls of our nation in times of cel­e­bra­tions but most deeply in times when tragedy strikes. Thank you for what you have shared. You are His “Poe­ma.” I wept again yet was filled again with His peace.

  10. i was real­ly impressed with this although it was my first time look­ing at your work you real­ly impressed me. thank you

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