Every Day | When Grief Lasts and Hope Remains

I AM THAT CAT
We used to have two cats, Pink and Sabrina. They were brothers, which isn’t obvious from their names. That’s what happens when you let your four-year-old and her best friend name your kittens.

Pink was a super-sized, black tuxedo who acted an awful lot like a dog. Sabrina was a smaller, gray version of Pink, and he snored like something akin to a chainsaw. Like most brothers, they played and they fought and they cuddled when sleepy.

One day, when they were about five years old, Pink and Sabrina (both indoor cats) escaped into the great wide open. Pink came home. Sabrina never did.

We were terribly worried and sad, but no one more than Pink. Every day, the burly cat would climb in an open window or press his nose against our screen door and call for Sabrina. His was a heartbreaking cry and you knew, you just knew, his meows meant, “Where are you? I’m still here. Come home. I miss you. Come home! I’m waiting!”

This went on for two years. For two years, Pink called and cried for his brother. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised – those kitties were together every single day of their lives. I imagine Pink felt as though he’d lost not just his brother, but a part of himself.

I am that cat.

Two years after my baby brother’s death, my soul still cries, “Where are you! I’m here. I miss you. Come home! I’m waiting!”

Just about everyone’s favorite picture of Derek

Like Pink, I expect my brother to come walking up the driveway at any moment – to tell me a funny story about his son or to ask me if I saw that great play Dustin Pedroia made in last night’s game.

THE WISDOM OF FRIENDS
I’m so grateful for two honest women who, in the weeks following my brother’s death, were kind enough to spare me the usual platitudes and instead told me the bald truth:

“No matter what anyone says, it doesn’t get easier, we just learn to cope better…”

I needed to hear those words. Sure, I’d lost people before – Kenny (Derek’s father and my stepfather who was like a father to me, died when I was 12 and Derek was two), grandparents who helped raise me, uncles and aunts and friends – so on some level, I knew their words were true. But I needed to hear them anyway. I needed to know that it’s ok that I’ll never be ok with this loss.

Proof for middle-school girls that there is hope…you will not always look this awkward. I promise.

In some ways, all losses are the same – you grieve for what you can’t have. But in other ways, each loss is different. The loss of a parent triggers life-altering insecurity – Who will take care of me? Who will love me unconditionally? Who will show me how to do this thing called life? While the loss of a friend slaps us awake to our own mortality and robs us of one of the few relationships that isn’t dictated by birth or marrying into a family, but is instead chosen.

Losing my brother, though, has been much more like losing a part of myself, as if someone carved a giant chunk of flesh out of my side. My brother was mine and I was his. He was my equal, my side-by-side, my co-conspirator in the unique craziness that is our family and no one else’s.

Ryan, Derek & me (Only God can put a family like this together!)

Like most siblings, we shared a sort of secret language of eye-rolls and smirks and headshakes. 

And even though we weren’t always together, it’s as if he was somehow, in every moment, standing right next to me. I knew he was there, just a phone call or short drive or the next holiday away. Only now he’s not.

And I am that cat.

The day following Derek’s death, I told my mom, “Now every day is a day he gets further and further away from me.”

My friends were right. Life hasn’t gotten any easier. In many ways, it’s harder.

Because now it’s been two years since I’ve heard his laugh…
two years since I’ve looked into those seawater eyes…
two years since we’ve watched a ball game together…
two years since he’s cracked a joke and made me laugh until I cry…
two years since I’ve held his hand, since we’ve played Wheel of Fortune, since he’s smothered me in a bear hug, since I’ve told him I love him.

I miss him now more than ever.

And I am that stupid cat crying in the window.

A STILL SMALL VOICE
Eventually, Pink stopped calling for Sabrina. Did he grow tired of trying? Did his broken heart figure out that Sabrina wasn’t coming home? Did he simply forget?

I’ve thought about this a lot lately: How long will my broken heart search for the missing piece? How many times must I tell myself Derek’s really gone? Will I become accustomed to life without him? Do I want to?

I worry, as I walk into a future without Derek, that I’m losing him again, that he’s growing smaller and smaller out on the horizon’s edge, and as the light and dust and distance obscure my vision, I fear that soon, he will disappear altogether. In those moments, the black abyss rushes at me and the hollow wind steals my breath and the air thick with emptiness presses down and… will the losing never end?!

Lashed by storms of grief and not comforted, I am a city in ruins.

But lately, in the midst of those ruins, when the silence settles like clear, fresh air, there is something else…a still, small voice…a voice that whispers to my soul:

Every day, every day, every day that passes,
every day that Derek gets further away from you,
every day is one day you get closer to seeing him again.
So don’t worry little one,
for while you are weeping at the door,
your brother calls to you:
“I’m right here. Don’t worry about me.
I’m already home.
And I’ll be right here, waiting for you,
every day.”

I am that cat crying at the door. But my brother waits for me. I am a city in ruins. But I am being rebuilt. Every day.

I love you baby brother. More than words can say. 


p.s. I’m about 99% sure that the next time I see Derek he is going to rank on me mercilessly for comparing our relationships to my cats. “I am that cat, Nichole? Really? That’s the line you went with? (followed by his high-pitched giggle)” Obviously, he won’t be swearing because we’ll be in heaven and all.

© Nichole Q Perreault

Winter’s Coming but Spring is Here | Reprise

This is one of my favorite, dearest, most precious blog posts ever  –  for no other reason that the power of the revelation God gave to me that day. I try to share this every year and today, with the snow and rain and bitter cold, seems like the perfect day to remind us all that Winter is Coming but Spring is Here. 

Winter. A season of painful exchanges: flip-flops for bulky jackets, warm breezes for

cold floors, the sound of crickets for the hum of the furnace, which, let’s face it, is basically the sound of money burning.

But the exchange that weighs on my body like a wet, wool coat, is that of light for darkness. Each autumn day, the coming winter snatches another two or three minutes of sunlight, replacing it with night. We wake in the dark, go to work in the dark, come home in the dark, eat dinner in the dark….

As of today, there are 53 more days of sliding headfirst into the abyss.

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

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.

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Waiting for Morning

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?

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Desperate

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.

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Winter’s Coming but Spring is Here II

Winter. A season of painful exchanges: flip-flops for bulky jackets, warm breezes for

cold floors, the sound of crickets for the hum of the furnace, which, let’s face it, is basically the sound of money burning.

But the exchange that weighs on my body like a wet, wool coat, is that of light for darkness. Each autumn day, the coming winter snatches another two or three minutes of sunlight, replacing it with night. We wake in the dark, go to work in the dark, come home in the dark, eat dinner in the dark….

As of today, there are 53 more days of sliding headfirst into the abyss.

Continue reading

The Day I was Done with God

Some days – far more often than I would like to admit – I feel like God has pulled the rug out from under my feet. Or better yet, that I am Charlie Brown and God is Lucy, who’s just swiped the football away from me, again. I try and try and try and no matter what, I miss, I fail, I fall. And there I am, lying flat on my back, staring up at the sky shouting, “Really? Really?!!”

Oooohhh, can I get angry. I mean the breaking-things kind of angry. On my worst days, you can find me shaking my mental fist at God, silent screams reverberating in my gut, “I am doing my best here, God! I am trying! Why…do…you…keep…making…this…so…impossible?! Do you want me to fail?!”

But on the very worst day, I spat out something pretty much exactly like this: “You know what, God? That’s it. I’m done with You.”

Yes, I actually said that. (I shudder every time I tell this story.) And there’s more….

“You and me, God. We’re done. I’ve had it. I’m sick of you bailing on me, on my kids, on my family. So that’s it. No more. No more quiet times. No more prayer. No more me relying on you for anything. We. Are. Done.”

It’s awful, I know. Horrible, dreadful, treacherous. What was I thinking?! Well…I wasn’t.

In mother terminology, I was what we call OUTOFCONTROL. And I knew it. But that’s the thing with being OUTOFCONTROL, you can’t really help yourself.

I immediately braced for the death blow. Any second I would be struck by lightning…or hit by a bus, at least. I mean, you don’t say things like that and get away with it. In more mother terminology, I was cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and the cruise was over. Somebody get the wooden spoon, already!

Well, a few minutes later, still alive and breathing, I realized that my new plan actually had some practical implications. At the time, I was leading a women’s Bible study and co-directing a kids program at church. Oh yeah, kids! What about my kids?! I quickly determined that I would put up a good front; I would take the kids to church and perform all my nice, Christian duties. I would “pretend.” I would “play Christian.”

And so I did. I went on. I went on asking nothing from God. Giving nothing to God. Expecting nothing good because I deserved the worst. And surely the worst would come.

Several days passed without any catastrophic acts of divine retribution and I suddenly understood that such a fate could hardly be God’s worst. No. His worst wouldn’t be a bolt of lightning. His worst would be to just leave. And so I waited for Him to leave – for Him to leave me ALONE.

And so I waited for Him to leave – for Him to leave me ALONE.

What would it be like, I wondered? Would I know He was gone? Would my mind and soul, once awash in Light, suddenly go dark? Would my heart, once warmed by His ever-presence, turn cold and barren? Surely life without Him must be like life without air.

The days turned into weeks and still I waited.

Raging waters from angry clouds beat violently upon the earth, overflowing banks and uprooting trees. But after the storm squeezes dry the clouds and the wind runs out of breath, the waters begin to slow. Smoothing out and away, moving almost imperceptibly, they find their way home, around rocks and through mountains, over fields and through the rush, back into the lap of the ocean.

So too, riven lovers find themselves pulled again, as if by lodestone, into that familiar embrace.

And even the rebellious, petulant child, once again finds her little arms wrapped around her daddy’s neck, though his strong arms do the holding.

And so weeks later, to my own surprise, I found myself resting quietly in the lap of my heavenly Father. Perhaps because my own father left me so easily – and more than once, too – I wondered at the strangeness of this God who stayed even in the face of my betrayal.

Then He answered the question I dared not ask:

“You see, Nichole, you were done with Me, but I am not done with you.”

Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s…

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust…but from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him…Praise the LORD, O my soul! Psalm 103

Catching Fire Movie Review

I know you have all been anxiously awaiting my review of Catching Fire, the movie based on the second book of Suzanne Collins‘ trilogy The Hunger Games.

Well, you can finally relax. It’s here!

I have already written a review of the books and the first movie; check them out here and here.  (In my opinion, the book review qualifies as “not to be missed.”)

Please note that I use the term “review” loosely. You will find no technical terms or expert analysis…just me, my thoughts, opinions and sometimes wacky connections to life and God.

First Impressions:

  • What a fantastic story. The whole concept is brilliant: a futuristic, dystopian society at the mercy of a corrupt, oppressive system that pits teenagers against each other by making them fight to the death on reality television. Brilliant! Horrifying, but brilliant!
  • Liked it better than the first HG movie.
  • Great casting! Finnick, Beetee, Maggs, Johanna, Cashmere, Gloss…almost exactly as described in the books.
  • Special effects significantly improved from the first movie.
  • So fast paced! I couldn’t believe that when the Quarter Quell finally began, there were only 45 minutes left to the movie.
  • Gale, Gale, Gale. I confess that if I hadn’t read the books, I would want Katniss to choose Gale. He’s just…so…Gale.
  • Prim. What is she, like 35 now?

Bad News First – What I Hated:

  • Not knowing Katniss’s internal dialogue. The books, written in the first person, allow us to understand her internal struggles, fears, doubts and hopes.  Whether it’s the fault of the screenwriters, the actors, both or neither, the movie limits our ability to identify with Katniss.
  • Peeta is not as strong a character as he was in the books. While he comes across way better than he did in the first movie (more on that here) he’s still too feminine and puppy-doggish towards Katniss for my taste.
  • The failure to develop Katniss and Peeta’s relationship on-screen. Maybe no one could figure out a good way to transition back and forth between the story’s fierce intensity and its deep, sometimes painful, tenderness. (Except in the case of Rue.) And I guess that if one side of the story had to be sacrificed, this was the way to go. Otherwise, you run the risk of making just another sappy, teenage love story.
    But in the books, the relationship between Katniss and Peeta illustrates of the running theme that hope is the only thing stronger than fear. Because the only thing that conquers Katniss – a wounded girl, walled off from love and driven by fear – is Peeta – the boy with the bread, the dandelion in the spring, the embodiment of hope. Many things help save her life in the arenas but Peeta saves her heart.
  • Katniss’s mother, when tending to Gale’s wounds, is nervous and ineffectual, and Prim has to take over. Yet in the book, the mother is actually composed and competent. Perhaps this was done to demonstrate Prim’s maturity, but it was unnecessary. Anybody with one good eye can tell that Prim’s not a little girl anymore.

What They Left Out…But Shouldn’t Have:

  • Plutarch showing Katniss his Mockingjay watch at the party. If the goal was to keep people in the dark about his part in the revolution, well, the book’s kind of gave that away already.
  • When Peeta takes care of Katniss after she injures her foot and they experience “normal” life together.
  • When Peeta says, “My nightmares are usually about losing you…I’m okay once I realize your here.” (page 86)
  • Katniss & Peeta on the rooftop, watching the sunset together, a couple of days before the games.

What They Should Have Left Out…But Didn’t:

  • Katniss kissing Gale then kissing Peeta then Gale then Peeta then Gale then Peeta. OK, I may be exaggerating. But this is my least favorite part of Catching Fire, the book and movie.  It’s so Bella-from-Twilight. Pick a man, sister. And until you do, stop kissing and holding hands and “just cuddling.” It’s bad role-modeling and selfish and just plain embarrassing!

What I Loved:

  • A funnier, smarter script that seemed to follow the book more closely than the first movie.
  • No major fails like in the first movie. (Yes, I am referring to the bread scene, the worst massacre of the first film, which given the nature of the story, says a lot.)
  • Peeta & Katniss’s speeches in District 11. Rue & Thresh’s families, the old man whistling the Mockingjay tune. I cried. Like a baby.
  • Peeta holding the morphling girl as she died, coaxing her to look at the beautiful colors in the sky until she passed.
  • Cinna and the Mockingjay dress. No. Explanation. Needed.
  • Peeta. His character is better. Funnier. Stronger. But still not taller. I will always love Peeta.
  • Effie. Funnier. Kinder. Human. Even likeable!
  • Haymitch. Still Haymitch.
  • Snow’s granddaughter. The perfect foil of her ruthless, evil grandfather.
  • Individual Assessments when Peeta painted Rue and Katniss hung an effigy of Seneca Crane.
  • The elevator scene. Hilarious.

Favorite Lines:

  • Haymitch: Nobody wins the games. Period. There are survivors. No winners.
  •  Katniss: What can you see? Prim: Hope.
  • As graffiti: The odds are NEVER in our favor.
  • And the best line of the movie: Remember who the enemy is.

So good.

Finally, I can’t think of a better way to end this post than with the last few paragraphs of my trilogy review. (Read the whole thing here.)

Do humans universally long for…a love that sacrifices one’s self to save another? If our music, movies, plays and books are any indication, then we must… it should come as no surprise that so many people love these books…the story stirs something deep within us.

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 the real 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.

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.”

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