Playing Potter

Photo by Ricardo Mancía on Unsplash

i can’t see
you
can’t see me

trapped behind these
glass brick eyes
inside the lies we wear
like make-up
spread thick
slick, with a spackling knife
layer slapped
upon layer

we play Potter with counterfeit clay
covering lines
and carving new ones
making mud masks that
bury us alive, that
harden into barrel helms
heavy on our heads

necks bent beneath the
weight of myths
we can’t remember
shoulders hunched
around our hearts, a blockade
gazes fixed on fingers
we can’t even look each other
in the eye anymore

Would it matter if we did?

© Nichole Q. Perreault, July 2019

This poem was written in response to my poetry group’s July prompt “differences”. The first line popped into my head and inspired the rest of the poem. 

 

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Rejection

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

It’s Rejection that kills me
pain so similar to grief,
it’s like dying,
like being stabbed in the place just between my shoulder blades,
like being punched in the stomach with a lead fist,
like having a hand shoved into my chest, fingers wrapped around my heart
…and squeeeeezed…
slowly at first, because Rejection likes to watch the pain creep up my neck, over my face, into my limbs, my fingertips, so that I can’t move.

Rejection likes to watch me die.

Continue reading

10 Facebook Statuses You’ll (Probably) Never Read & What it Means, if Anything

1. Look, I gained 20 lbs.!
Do I blame you for not advertising the new, softer, rounder you? Duh. Of course not. Take my profile pic, for example. It’s from a NYC wedding I attended over a year ago. I’m wearing contacts, make-up and a formal gown. It may be the best photo I’ve taken in 10 years. That’s the me I want people to see. I don’t want them to see 6:30am, gray-haired, bespectacled me. In my defense, it is called “Face”-book. Besides, I wouldn’t want to embarrass the kids. Yeah, that’s it. I’m doing it for the kids. Point is, maybe your boyfriend’s ex doesn’t look quite so fine as her FB page implies. I mean, you did see those celebrities on The Talk without make-up, didn’t you?

2. My husband forgot our anniversary. I don’t even know why we’re still married.
OK. So, I’m guilty of posting a brag on my man here and there. But for all the good things I post (which isn’t much because I’m not the gushy type), there’s at least an equal amount of crappy stuff that goes unposted. And, barring newlyweds and the ridiculously blissful, this is true for most of us. Because marriage is hard. Sometimes, it’s really hard. Not that I recommend posting all your couple troubles on Facebook…talk about a sure fire marriage-killer! But maybe next time you come across Sally’s post about her best-ever husband who makes her breakfast in bed every morning and serenades her with loves songs written just for her each night – maybe you’ll remember that even if her husband is perfect (which, trust me, he isn’t) the rest of us are slogging it out in the trenches of love, just like you.

3. We’re struggling financially and now our house is in foreclosure. #soblessed
I write this from a desk in suburban Connecticut, where UGG’s, a North Face fleece and an iPhone are practically requirements for middle school. Imagine what it would be like to endure foreclosure while rubbing elbows with lawyers and brokers at the winter choral concert. It was bad enough having to explain to my kindergartener’s friend how we get on without a garage. I’m so tired of feeling like our financial value mirrors our personal value. This is America, after all…you know, give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses…right?

4. See me and my boyfriend in this pic? Aren’t we the cutest? He gave me an STD and now I’m pregnant. He’s taking me to get an abortion tomorrow.
I know. I know. You’re in love. For real. Like totally. And it’s going to last forever. Yes, I know, for some of you that’s actually true and aren’t you cute? But for most of you, it’s fantasy. So when you see a pic of Ashley-Ann and her sweetheart Lance all snuggled up under the blankets “just watching a movie” remember that when she gets pregnant, catches herpes or gets her heart broken, chances are she won’t share a photo of that. In part, because those who once envied her will then judge her, when what she really needs is support. Lesson: Don’t set your relationship goals by what you see on social media.

5. I didn’t get the promotion I wanted and my boss says I suck.
No one wants to be told they don’t measure up. And sometimes we do measure up and still get passed over. Haven’t most of us been there at one point or another? Of course, no one is advertising their professional failures online, likely because they’re hoping to actually get another job. (And now that companies purchase social media records of applicants, this is probably a good plan.) However, rest assured, you are not alone. And you are more than your career.

6. My son was arrested for DUI. My other son is an A student plagued by perfectionism. And my daughter’s addicted to prescription drugs (which she stole from me).
Now this one’s tricky, because posting negative stuff about our kids online would just be bad parenting. And of course, we all love our kids. We think they’re adorable and funny and talented and loving and generous and compassionate. And they are! But they’re also challenging, demanding, selfish and struggling through this life like the rest of us. They aren’t trophies. We can’t use them as the measuring rods of success. Let’s not put that on ourselves. Let’s not put that on them. Don’t compare. Don’t compare. Don’t compare. Just do the best with what you have and trust God to fill in the rest.

7. The dog has fleas, the kids have lice and the house has bed bugs. #partyatourhouse
When it comes to honesty, some things are off limits. With cleanliness being what it is in America and not wanting to be treated like we’re under quarantine, we keep these little things to ourselves. (Which, in a literal sense, is perfectly fine.) But isn’t hiding exhausting?! If I can’t tell you my dog has fleas, are we really friends?

Photo by LiveLifeHappy

Photo by LiveLifeHappy

8. I prayed and God didn’t answer. I worshiped and felt lonelier. I read the Bible…nothing.
How easily we equate a “positive attitude” with being a “good Christian.” Failing to live in victory? Bad Christian. Are you complaining? 40 years in the desert for you. Haven’t heard from God? You must have an unrepentant heart. I, too, am tempted to think that if I’m struggling, I must be doing something wrong. But what if I’m struggling simply because I live in a fallen world? What if there is no explanation? Sometimes, life is just painful and confusing. Ask Job. Or read this book and see if it makes sense to you. Bible quotes are encouraging – seriously, they are – but I need spiritual transparency, too. How else can we travel this road together? And how else can we let others know that following Christ is more than putting on a happy face?

9. I spent the weekend doing homework, staring at the ceiling and wondering why I’m the only one not out having the best time ever. #imaloser
I can’t imagine living as a teenager today, feeling the need to prove my own self-worth with photographic evidence of a booming social life on Instagram, Twitter, FB or wherever. Just trying to find a hairstyle acceptable to the middle school powers-that-be was enough for me. (Especially after my Annie perm debacle.) But at least I didn’t have to worry about someone snapping a shot of my bad hair day and sending it into cyberspace for all eternity. Anyway, remember, no matter how old you are, much of life is ho-hum, looking a lot more like Lorde’s Royals video than My Super Sweet Sixteen. And that’s ok. Mountaintops are great for inspiration but life happens in the valley.

10. You don’t really know me and I hope you never do.
Really, this sums up all the others. In many ways, it sums up social media entirely.

I believe that deep down we all want to be known – truly known, understood, accepted and loved. At the same time, we spend most of our time hiding because we’re afraid that if we are truly known, we will be rejected. So we hide…behind our achievements, behind our looks, behind the personas we create for ourselves, behind the personas people create for us, behind our busyness, behind our defenses.

Social Media feeds this part of our human nature, enabling us to be known by many but only as the person we want others to see. We can live like mini-celebrities, presenting ourselves to the world however we wish while hiding all the ugly bits. The problem is everyone is doing this. And because we are so easily deceived, we begin to believe that the happy, shiny faces of our “friends” are real and constant. Then they, in turn, believe the same about us. Thus, we create this vicious cycle where we think we are relating to each other but instead we are isolating ourselves.

But that’s not what I want. Not really. And I don’t think it’s what you want either. The question is, will we settle for the superficial connections we make online or do we have the courage to seek genuine community and real relationships? It’s risky. Believe me, I know! Because there’s a part of me that hopes you never really know me. But there’s another part of me that desperately hopes you do.

So my advice to you is not that you give up Facebook or that you bare your soul online, but rather that you think about the time you spend there. Why are you on social media? What is it doing for you? Are you honest about who you are? Do you spend too much time comparing yourself and your family to others? How can you connect more honestly with others? I don’t know. Just a thought.

Written for the Weekly Writing Challenge, Dear Abby.

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

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.

Healing Rain

I Had a Dream….no really, I did!

I was with my youngest daughter, Christina, and a friend. We stood in a vast, barren landscape of dry, scraggly hills covered with natural debris. I didn’t look at the sky but it must have been sunless, because everything was gray, ashen.

I am bent over a pile of withered, cracked branches – branches much longer than I am tall and about the thickness of a baseball bat. The branches are so dry, they’ve begun to turn white. I kneel down, curious. Lifting up a few branches to see what lies beneath, I notice they’re stuck in some sort of gray mire. An old riverbed! The mire reeks of decay. 

I lift my head. To my left are three dead owls.

Nothing lives here.

I stand and look around. I see now – the hills and valleys are actually the stony banks and dry beds of countless rivers and creeks. Each one filled with desiccated branches.  Everywhere my eyes scan: parched, lifeless land.

A moment later, I am at an old farmhouse. Not mine. My grandmother’s? My mother’s? I think we’re on vacation. My entire family is there. Even my grandparents, who’ve long since passed.

My grandma’s in the kitchen. There’s a child sleeping on an over sized chair. Is it Christina? Or am I seeing myself?

I step out the screen door and the sky looms heavy, oppressive, dark. Drizzle dots my skin. I sigh and think, “Ugh, rain. Another family vacation day ruined.” Then I remember the dry riverbed. I put my hand out to catch the drizzle. “No. Not enough to make a difference.”

Next, I am standing outdoors. Christina and I are by the street, facing the white farmhouse. She seems younger in my dream.  My friend stands in the yard, facing us. Behind her there’s a little vegetable garden. And I have a sense that my grandma is watching us through the embroidered café curtains of the kitchen window.

It starts to rain. And pour. And pour. For a moment I am disappointed. Rain on vacation.

I look at the ground beneath my feet. Mud. So much water the ground can’t hold. My skin, my hair – soaked. What a mess! What a…

I remember: The dry riverbeds. The barren wasteland. This rain – it’s falling there too!

I turn my palms heavenward and lift my face to the rain. Rain will quench the parched land and fill thirsty riverbeds. Perhaps the rain did not come when I wanted, as I expected, but it came and it is good.

What do you do with a dream like that? What do you make of it? I would love to hear your thoughts. It has been a couple of weeks and God is still speaking to me about it.

I should tell you that this dream came on the night of Tuesday, November 6 – Election Night 2012. Hmmmm….

I should also tell you that our church is in the midst of a spiritual emphasis we call “Pray for Reign.” Together, we are praying for God to reign in our lives, individually and corporately, and that His spirit would rain down on us and on our land.

Back when Pray for Reign began, I fell in love with this song Waiting for the Rain by Misty Edwards:

“..I’m waiting in the desert, just waiting for the rain…”  

This weekend, I had the privilege of being with a friend while she grieved. As I watched her cry, God gave me a sort of vision: I glimpsed dry riverbeds, like the ones in my dream, deep in her soul. And they were being watered by her tears. The beauty of it took my breath away. The eyes of my heart began to see…to understand grief differently:

Loss of any kind leaves an empty space in our hearts. If we hold on to that loss or run away from it, that hole becomes an dry, decaying ditch. What water is left, sours from the rotting branches of bitterness – those worthless things we use to fill our hollow spaces. Then it happens again…and again, so that one day, we look around at the expanse of our souls, and see acres upon acres devoured by loss. An emaciated wasteland.

Nothing lives here.

“…oh but I won’t leave this desert, until I see the rain…”

More often than not, God won’t bring back what was lost – people die, dreams are dashed, life changes, friends move away, bodies grow weak. All this life…it’s just a letting go.

I have wrestled with this. I have burned with rage. I have desperately asked. I have silently cried. Then came peace – or at least the hope of peace: Nichole, every empty cavern, every hollow grave, is a place for Me to enter. Everything I take away, creates more room for Me.

This life is loss. I can rail against reality – rail against Him – or I can accept what’s true and give Him space to rain…to reign.

“… I can see the clouds gatherin’ now…are you ready…are you ready for the rain?”

Are you ready for the rain? When God sends it, will you let it fall?

Will you?

Because the rain that fills our dry riverbeds will not fall from the sky. The rain that soaks our shriveled souls, will fall from our eyes. Our very eyes.

Grief is a gift from God. A well to the deep healing waters of heaven. Let Him rain.

Lament your loss. Mourn what’s missing. Cry out in your pain.

I had a dream. God reigned.

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43:19

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.

Giving Up My Rights

Photo by engleek

Photo by engleek

Long gone are the days when people simply gave up ice cream or meat for Lent. Modern observers of the season abstain with far more creativity than ever before, giving up such things as Facebook, television, wearing jewelry, caffeine and Sudoku. This year, I find myself part of that trend – though I gave up something far less tangible. Some may consider it weak or a cop-out to give up something so difficult to measure, but if nothing else, giving up my “rights” is changing the way I think.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I feel compelled to admit that practicing my typical Lent abstention – relinquishing my daily (and I do mean daily) intake of chocolate – held far less appeal this winter as I adjusted to a gluten-free diet. One more dietary restriction seemed almost unbearable. Contrast that with the cross of Christ, and um…yeah…you could call me a wimp, shallow, selfish. And I wouldn’t argue with you.

At the same time, giving up my “rights” hasn’t been quite as easy as you may think…especially if I am honest about my progress. One reason I didn’t want to commit to such a fuzzy agreement – aside from feeling like a hack – is the difficulty in measuring success. Give up chocolate, coffee, even Facebook or Sudoku, and if you try hard enough, victory is yours. Even a mediocre will can power you through 46 days of self-denial. But forego your rights and you’re doomed to fail.

What do I mean by giving up my “rights”? To some of you, what I am about to say is going to sound ridiculous…absurd…wrong even. After all, rights are part of the fabric of America, where each person is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Thank you, Thomas Jefferson. Those are just a few of a long list of rights we claim to protect in this, our land of liberty. America has been a champion for civil rights, human rights, women’s rights, the right to vote, the right to privacy, the right to speak and think freely. And I daresay the list is growing. Though we do not all agree as to which rights should be afforded government protection and which should not – such as the rights of the unborn or the right to insurance coverage for contraception – most of us believe passionately that people possess inherent rights no other human being or government should violate.

It would seem, then, that championing the rights of people, especially cultural underdogs, cannot have a downside. I mean, seriously, how can you go wrong with that? By stepping off the narrow path of unalienable rights, into the murky abyss of entitlement. That’s how. Yes, I said it: Entitlement! But don’t leave yet – I promise, NO politics in this post! Ugly political buzzword that it is, entitlement has insidiously snaked its way into human hearts since the dawn of creation. “Hey there, Eve. Sure you can eat that apple. If God can have it, why can’t you? Go on, take a bite. Why shouldn’t you have what you want?”

Perhaps the better question is: why should she get what she wants? What is her claim? She has none. She can’t even use the trusty old territorial defense, because she wasn’t even there first! Sad as it is, we are no different than Eve. Do any of these statements sound familiar: “How dare he cut me off in the middle of an intersection!”  “Who does she think she is, leaving me to clean up this mess?” “What? No apology? I at least deserve an apology!” “When do I get a day off?” “Why is his life so much better than mine?” You may not say it out loud, but I bet those thoughts – or something like them — are rolling around inside your mind, bouncing off the inside of your skull like belligerent toddlers, demanding compensation. That’s often what it’s like in my head.

But what is my claim? What are the grounds for my appeal? You see, we’ve become so bent on getting what we deserve that we’ve lost sight of the fact that we actually deserve nothing. There is no cosmological agreement, penned in stardust or stamped on the sky, even suggesting that we have a right to anything – life, food, shelter, love. Nothing. Everything good, anything good, that we have is a gift – whether the Garden of Eden or the crocuses in my flower bed. So then what right do I have to uninterrupted sleep, a painless childhood, a master bathroom, freedom from back spasms, lower gas prices, the guy in front of me at least matching the speed limit, an apology or to be understood? Not one.

I can hear you now. “But wait, what about those unalienable rights endowed by our Creator?” Let me clarify. Life is a gift from God, as I see it, and for that reason I believe that one’s “right” to life goes only so far in that no other human being can lay claim to it, interfere with its freedom or its pursuit (not necessarily its attainment) of happiness. But to out and out insist I have a right, of my own accord, to my life is absurd in light of the fact that I did nothing to gain it, and ultimately can do nothing to retain it. My life, in the truest sense, does not belong to me.

So here I am. And there you are. Two happy accidents some might say. Or, in my opinion, two very unique works of art, created by the Artist Himself. If it is the former, then we have no claim to anything. No common reference point for demanding anything at all. Just two selves, imposing selfish demands. If it is the latter, then our only claim is that we belong to the One who made us. Anything He deigns to give us – or not give us – is entirely up to Him. Period. Whether we like it or not, that is reality.

Wow, a thousand words just to establish some sort of reality as the basis of my Lenten whims. And I haven’t even gotten to my point yet! Ah well. If anything in the piece interests you at all, whether you agree or disagree or have no idea what I am talking about, I humbly ask that you consider how often you demand your rights. What are those sneaky little entitlements that have found their way into your mind and heart…robbing you of contentment and joy? Then, perhaps another day, I can entertain you with tales of the challenges and lessons I’ve experienced upon grudgingly giving up a few rights I cannot even claim in memory of the One who surrendered every right due His name.

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.