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. 

I Am Not Enough

I am not enough. I will never be enough. I am inadequate. Completely, desperately inadequate.

I sit at the counter and feel the weight of those words pressing down on me, pressing me into the counter top. I am unable to push back.

Why do these thoughts oppress me when they are true? The truth sets me free. But this…this is hopelessness and shackles and life draining from my limbs and air leaving my lungs. Somewhere deep in my thoughts, this truth harbors a lie. What is it? What am I thinking?

I search my mind. God, help me search my mind. I think about how I think about me.

I AM not enough. I am NOT enough. I am not ENOUGH. I never will be. I never was. I learned that long ago. I remember crying out to God to rescue me…to fix me. I knew there was something wrong with me. As a child, a teen…I did not wonder…I did not ask. I knew. I was deficient, defective, Less Than…

Less than what? Less than what I should have been. What I could have been. I failed. I am a failure. Should have been what? Could have been what? Enough. I should have been enough. I should have been adequate. I should have been complete. Strong.

But I know…deep within me…in the cold, dark place…I know, I couldn’t have been enough. Because I am broken and I am a sinner.

Oh, but I should have been! I should have been enough. I should have been Good. Strong. Complete. Independent.

That last word almost slips by. Out of the corner of my eye I see it…drifting off into the distance…trying to sneak away…but I caught it. My mind draws that word back and lays it out before me. Because that’s a word that doesn’t belong. Independent. That word doesn’t live in the space I share with Jesus. That word has no place here.

But I feel it: my desire to be independent; to be good; my anger at having failed. I hate that I need help…that I need to be rescued. And I begin to untangle the lies from the truth.

I am not enough.

Finish that sentence, Nichole.

I am not enough…on my own. Truth.

I never could have been enough. Truth.

I never could have been enough…because I am defective. Lie.

How is that a lie? My sin, my brokenness, my failures and misdeeds clamor and clang down the streets of my life like a Mardi Gras parade…refusing to be ignored. I should have gotten it right. But I am a failure. I am defective…a disappointment…weak…

You never could have been enough because you were never meant to be enough…on your own.

Truth.

I feel the freedom. The pressure easing off my back, my chest. I breathe.

I need God, not because I am defective, but because I was never meant to live without him. I was made to need Him. We were made to need Him. And yet we come into this world thrashing and gasping for air…desperate to survive. Selfish…to keep the breath for which we struggle, to hold this life..to own it…to be something…on our own.

On my own, I am not good – not because I failed – but because I could never be good apart from God. I was not created to be on my own. On my own, I am nothing…maybe something worse than nothing.

I am not a failure. I just am. Truth.

I am needy. Truth.

I am weak. Truth.

I am broken. Truth.

And that is exactly what He wants me to be. Truth.

On my own – like independent – those are words that have no place between Jesus and me. His Spirit and mine. We are one. I will never be on my own. I cannot be on my own.

I am His. Truth.

Everything He gives me, which is all of Him, is endless. I don’t need enough – I have everything. I have more than everything.

I am complete. Truth.

I breathe in this truth. I am light and hope finds its wings. The truth sets me free.

I am free. Truth.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-11

One of my all time favorite songs. Hey fellow Scots, dig these bagpipes: 

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.

Lessons from Grandma

I haven’t posted anything in quite some time, but I have been writing! Today I want to share an excerpt from that writing. It is about my grandmother, the most influential woman in my life after my mother.  She passed away 3 years ago this August and I miss her as much as I did the first day she went away. This post is not only about her, but about me and just a few of the life lessons she taught me. I hope they speak to you and bless you as well.

Grandma. 5’ 10” with short, dark-blond hair (before it went white) which she set in curlers weekly for that June Cleaver kind of look. Not that my Grandma was much like June Cleaver. Gosh, I’d probably catch heck if she heard me comparing her to June Cleaver! Kim Novak…or Angela Landsbury…maybe she would like those comparisons better. After all, Grandma traded in skirts and dresses for elastic waisted, pocketless denim or polyester slacks long before I came along. And whenever she was at home, the only thing she wore on her feet were those toeless, backless, slide-on, terrycloth slippers. I guess she figured if clothes weren’t comfortable then they weren’t worth wearing.

I, along with my brother and mother, had the privilege of spending more than half my childhood living with my grandparents. While she didn’t work outside the home – and she cooked, cleaned, washed and ironed on a schedule you could set a watch to – my Grandma, Arlene was her name,  found no bliss in her domestic duties. Domesticity was her job. Period. She lived for the moments in between. Those filled with piano playing, crossword puzzles, game shows, family visits, apple pie with cheddar cheese, diet coke, Pall Mall non-filters, Murder She Wrote and Fred Astaire.

One afternoon, when I was about 10, I came home from school with an assignment. I plopped myself down on the floor in front of the chair where she sat.

“Grandma, I have to ask you a question for homework. If there was one thing you could have done differently in life, what would it be?”

“Oh, let me see,” she said, resting her elbows on her knees and rubbing her wrinkled hands together. She turned her blue-green eyes to the floor to think, then looked back up at me and said, “Well, I probably wouldn’t have had so many kids.”

I, the firstborn of her fourth and very last child, stared back, wide-eyed, slack-jawed.

“I think I would have stopped after the first one. Raising all those kids…ah.” She waved her hand as if brushing away all the chores of childrearing. “Then maybe I would have gotten a job or something.”

She said it so casually, so matter-of-factly. My mind reeled. My grandma – the most dependable, reliable, non-threatening person I knew, one whose love I never doubted and whose care I never lacked – just wiped my name from her book of life!  I imagined the consequences: my mother, my aunt Joanne, my uncle Gibby, my cousins and me…all gone. Uncle Thomas and his kids the only survivors. How easily she dismissed our familial line!

I took a breath and checked myself, searching for any internal hurt or anger. There was none. In fact, if I hadn’t been so shocked, I might have even laughed. Geez Gram, I thought, you can think those things if you want, but maybe you shouldn’t say them out loud…to your grandchildren!

But I found that I couldn’t hold it against her. Rather, my appreciation for her grew. She had hopes and dreams beyond motherhood and housewifery; she wanted more than us. I wondered what held her back. Was it falling in love with grandpa that caused her to settle down and have kids? Was it her limited education? Or just a lack of options for farm girls in the 1940’s? Whatever the case, she wanted something different and yet her dutiful, personal sacrifice betrayed none of those regrets.

My grandmother was the solid ground beneath my shifting sands of life. Borrowing from singer Sarah Evans, “she was steady as the sun.” Faithful. Predictable. Available. Consistent. She loved us all and would stand by us until the end. Of that I had no doubt. That day, I saw in her, perhaps for the first time, the incomparable value of a life sacrificed for others.

She was no saint. I’m pretty sure a woman who at times shared vocabulary with sailors can’t be canonized. And her insistence that “that Mary, she wasn’t no virgin” probably wouldn’t have won her any votes either. But she was ours and nothing, not even her own dreams, would change that.

At that moment, I made a point to tuck this little conversation away, knowing that someday, when I was old enough, its retelling would make us all roar with laughter.

I learned a few more things that day. I learned that while our choices matter, life is bigger than our choices. And that our regrets don’t have to define us. But perhaps, most importantly for me, an unplanned child, I learned that our plans might not always be the best plans.

How precarious was my entrance into this world! What if my parents never met? Never dated? What if they’d chosen to abort me? It was 1973 after all.

Or what if my grandma had stopped at just one child and went off to get a job instead?

Life is not only bigger than our choices; it’s bigger than me, bigger than all of us. That day, I stopped asking “What if?” and began to wonder “Why?”

Why was I here? Why was my mother here? My grandmother? Anyone?

I was Curious.

Hungry Anyone?

If anyone had told me a month ago, that my next favorite book would be about a futuristic society that punishes their citizens with high-tech, Hollywood style gladiator games, I would have thought they were crazy. But when my cousin showed me The Hunger Games movie trailer on his phone at Christmas, I was hooked before I even had the book in my hands! My daughter and I spent two nights reading it aloud to each other, alternating chapters. Shouting when it was time to trade the book, “Hurry! Give it over!” or if the person reading paused to catch her breath, “Keep going! Read! Read!” On the last night, we stayed up until 2:00 a.m. sustaining ourselves with granola and chocolate just so we could make it to the end. Which of course was only nominally satisfying….because it is a trilogy!!! We devoured the next two books in a matter of days.

A book that keeps me up at night is one thing. Lots of books keep me up at night. So how do I know if a book’s really gotten to me? If, when I get about 50 pages or so away from the end, I stop reading, because I just don’t want it to be over, don’t want to let the characters go. When I pick it back up, I take my time, savor those last few pages. Even with my daughter waiting anxiously to talk about the final book that she’d already finished, I read the ending slowly, mourning its passing with the turn of each page.

The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins, hardly lacks attention on the blogosphere. In fact, I may be the last blogger in the world to write about it. That’s why I am not going to give the standard review, critique the book or conjecture about whether this trilogy is a rip-off from a Japanese novel with a similar plot, as apparently some have suggested. (The one thing I have to say regarding those rumors is that good writing requires hard work, creativity and talent, and while these books might not rise to the level of classic literature, they are riveting. That doesn’t happen by accident.)

For those of you wondering if you should read the book, I will offer these general thoughts: Many people may be turned off by the overall concept, the graphic violence or the complete lack of anything spiritual in such a dark world, but the novel itself isn’t dark, like say The Golden Compass. The Hunger Games trilogy is about hope and the power of life to endure, spring up even, in the most neglected of places. If your kids read it, I suggest you read along with them so that you can discuss it together. My daughter and I are still talking about it!

So why am I really writing this post? What do I have to share of any real substance? Well, perhaps nothing more than to say this book confirms the relevance of Christianity’s message and the power of its imagery even in our post-modern world. I am not suggesting The Hunger Games is a Christian book or even that the author was using Christian themes. In some ways, I think Collins was avoiding religion altogether. Why else would she have created a society who faced death every day, but spent so little time thinking about the afterlife or searching for meaning? Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining! Just acknowledging that some of the treasures I found hidden in this book were likely not put there on purpose.

*Spoiler Alert* The next several paragraphs contain some spoilers. I tried not to give away too much, so I think you could read it without ruining the books or movie, but proceed at your own risk!

First, I find that the premise of the story – that a higher power, The Capitol, rules over the masses by deceiving, oppressing, enslaving and dividing them, causing them to fight one another instead of their real enemy, the sinister President Snow and his government – is not all that different than the spiritual battle depicted in Christianity. Are we not being deceived on a daily basis? Are we not oppressed by doubt, fear, self-righteousness, pride and resentment? Do we not war with one another, if not with swords and guns, then with words and emotions?

Then, there is the love story. Peeta, who represents hope, practically oozes all things good and light. He is a baker, an artist, a natural leader and a man willing to sacrifice his own life for the one he loves, Katniss. In fact, at one point he dies and – wait for it – comes back to life. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to spell this one out for you, but the material’s too good – I can’t not write about it.

At a pivotal moment in their relationship, when they are far from home and in danger of dying, Peeta gives Katniss a locket with pictures of her mother, sister and best friend, Gale. Gale, like Peeta, is in love with Katniss; however, Katniss is unsure of who she loves, unsure if she is even capable of love. While Katniss doesn’t know what she wants, Peeta is unwavering in his love for her. When she needs him, he is there. When she pushes him away, he loves her from afar. When she’s at her worst, he loves her anyway. As they look at the pictures of her family and Gale, Peeta offers Katniss his life, asking her to let him die in her place – he wants her to live, to be happy, to marry Gale and have a full life, even if that means giving her up, giving everything up. That, my friends, is sacrificial, selfless love – the truest form of love there is.

Do humans universally long for this kind of love? A love that sacrifices oneself to save another? If our music, movies, plays and books are any indication, then we must. Images of heroes surround us – heroes that can save us, from loneliness, grief, pain, danger, self-obsession, self-loathing, even death. So it should come as no surprise that so many people love these books. Whether we know it or not, the story stirs something deep within us.

Finally, as a baker, Peeta literally feeds and nourishes people in a starving community. This, I imagine, was no accident on the author’s part because he is ultimately the one who satisfies Katniss’s deepest hunger. I can’t help but smile a little at his name, which is actually a homonym for a kind of bread eaten by millions of people the world over. But I wonder if as Collins was writing Peeta, she considered the One who truly satisfies.

We, every one of us, are part of a Hunger Game. Only this is no game. This is real. Look around you. Think about it. Why are you here? Who’s really in control? Are you still a slave to the unseen powers of this dark world? Do you know who your enemy is? Are you hungry? Starving for the truth? Desperate for something…or someone to satisfy your soul?

He’s out there, you know. Your Rescuer. The One who said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” is all the food your starving soul needs. And He’s the only chance you have of getting out of this arena alive.

To Blog or Not to Blog

“You should be a writer!” When I first began hearing those words – from my husband, kids, family, friends – I didn’t know how to respond. Imagine me at a loss for words! It happens occasionally, mostly because I like to choose my words carefully, because I want to mean what I say and say what I mean and that comment, “You should be a writer!” stumped me every time. Then, one day it hit me….they might as well be telling me to be a girl, or a mom or a human being. So now, when someone says “You should be a writer,” I answer, “I am.”

And I am. There are not many words I would use to define myself. After all, I am a person, not an occupation or a role. But I’ve come to believe that there are some things about us that eventually, through time or intensity, become part of who we are. There may come a day when I can no longer write, but in my heart I will always be a girl who understands herself and her world best, when she puts her thoughts into words and puts those words onto paper…or a computer.

I’ve always enjoyed writing but it was during my freshman year of high school that I realized I was actually good at it. I don’t know who I surprised more, my teacher or myself. Even today, when a certain sentence rolls off my fingertips or a thought appears on the page I think, “Wow! Where did that come from?” And that’s how I know it’s a gift. I’ve done nothing to earn or achieve the skill or insight, it’s just there.

For years, I denied myself the pleasure of writing because I believed a lie. The lie went something like this: “Your writing is a waste of time and energy. No one reads it so it doesn’t matter and writing for yourself is nothing but self-indulgence.” There were a lot more lies like that to keep me from doing what I love, but over a period of years I felt the Lord nudging me on with little messages that would crop up in the strangest places – on a talk show, in a movie, in a song, at work, online – little reminders of an idea that was at first wispy and vague. Until one day, I heard the message loud and clear: “Write, Nichole. Write! Not for fame or fortune. Not for approval or self-indulgence. Don’t write to be understood. Write to understand.  Write…because you can.”

Olympic runner and Christian, Eric Liddell – the inspiration for the movie Chariots of Firewhen questioned by his sister about the time he spent training and running that could have been devoted to the mission field, answered: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” There is something right about doing what God has gifted us to do. I’ve heard people say that a bird brings God glory by singing her song, building her nest, digging for worms and taking flight; a tree glorifies God by growing, converting sunlight into food and swaying in the breeze. So I will write because God has gifted me to write, and because when I do, I feel His pleasure.

I am especially grateful for blogging, which provides a place, other than a journal, for me to put my thoughts without jumping into the competitive arena of publishing. Here, I imagine myself sending words out on the wind and trusting them to land where so ever they shall. At the same time, I long to reach more people, hear more feedback and engage in more dialogue with my readers.  One of the cardinal rules for increasing blog traffic is to post a lot….and I mean A LOT! This presents quite a conflict for a girl resolved to write for the sake of writing, a girl who worries that she is quickly wearing out her welcome among friends. Believe me, I am just like you – bombarded and overwhelmed by words, information, choices. How can I expect you, or anyone else, to take the time to read my rambling thoughts? There are so many reasons not to write and even more reasons not to blog but then I am reminded, “Write, Nichole. Write!”

So forgive me for the times I inundate you, bore you, preach too much, don’t make any sense or whatever else I do that drives you crazy. And thank you for subscribing to my blog, for commenting on my site, sharing your thoughts with me, recommending my writing to your friends, for your patience and for indulging me. You are to me like rays of sunshine, breaking through the clouds of doubt, reminding me that I am not alone.