Inside the Lines

By Mary Hughes

Inside the Lines

I remember as a little girl how I loved to color. I filled countless coloring books with vivid purple scratches, blue scribbles and yellow patches. The black lines on the pre-printed illustrations didn’t hold me back. I colored wherever my waxy, colored crayon wanted to go, and that was almost everywhere, including outside the lines.

But people who seemed to know more about coloring than I did encouraged me to stay inside the lines. I was told that’s what the lines were for. I looked and saw that everyone else was trying to color inside the lines, so I started coloring inside the lines more carefully. And I realized they were right: my coloring looked beautiful when I stayed inside the lines! It looked perfect! It wasn’t long after that that I stopped coloring. It was simply too exhausting.

So what began with Crayola soon evolved into a lifelong battle with perfect. Part of that battle was trying to cope with all the people who have learned to stay within the lines so much better than I. Because I have tried so very hard; I really have. But it’s like there’s this thick black line and no matter how honest the effort, I go over it. And when I’m confronted with someone who is able to do perfect, I am overwhelmed.

Take today, for example. I was invited over to someone’s perfect house, perched on a perfect lot with nary a weed nor bare spot. The grass was edged, and not one piece of grass dared to poke its head over the line. Inside this perfectly painted house were walls without one scratch, floors without one scar, furniture without one flailing thread and carpet without one slight shadow. Outside were brightly potted plants without one brown spot, without one dead flower. There was not a dead little petal or leaf on the ground. Even the stones that lined the garden seemed to stand at attention like a military guard. It was the picture of perfect. Every single thing as far as the eye could see had been colored inside the lines, deliberately, methodically and with surgical precision. And like a kindergartner sneaking a glimpse of another’s superior work, I felt deflated, imperfect, a derelict of sorts. I sighed inside where no one would see the inner struggle. Because in my house you can’t even see the lines anymore, much less stay inside them. I had waged war on perfect, and I had lost. At that moment I once again found myself exhausted. I wanted to throw my whole crayon box away and quit.

Instead I went home and sulked. I looked around at the place I call home. I noticed pulls on the couch from the cats. I saw hardwood boards with a bit of a bulge from an overflowing dishwasher ten years ago. Over on the windowsill there are deep scratches from a beloved, but crazy, Labrador Dalmatian mix who has long since gone. I saw scars on the wall corner from the girls’ furniture as it departed the house along with them. In the kitchen I saw marks on the counter from many meal preparations. Ah, yes, far from perfect, all of it. Then I had a mini-epiphany. Just when did perfect become a rule that I must live by? Was it back in kindergarten when I heard the praise for a picture perfectly colored inside the lines? Who was it I wanted to be like? Why couldn’t I just be me, in all my imperfections?

There is no denial that there is a pristine beauty that results from the tireless pursuit of perfection, but it will never be mine. And I hereby declare I shall no longer endeavor to wear its perfectly polished crown. Instead I will look around at the scars and mars of my home and see them as a kind of grace note in a painting yet unfinished. I will no longer strive to whitewash any of it, for these imperfections are mine and my family’s, and they are the markings of my coloring book, my story, my life, full of color and fully outside the lines.

And imperfectly, perfectly…beautiful.

About this writer

  • Mary Hughes Mary Hughes has been published in Chicken Soup for the Tea Lover’s Soul. She also writes newspaper articles, devotionals and stories of encouragement for women. Her subscriber based newsletter, Christian Potpourri, is in its seventh year of publication.

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

10 Responses to “Inside the Lines”

  1. Barry Smith says:

    Wow! What a great article! Keep them coming!

  2. Janie Dale says:

    How beautifully written! The “scars and mars” of a lifetime are what touch the heart. A delightful and moving read.

  3. Julie says:

    I love this story so much. It really makes me look at all the things in my life and appreciate how they are and not how I “want” them to be or how they could be better.

  4. Patsy Turner says:

    Great read. Hope to see more in the future.

  5. Janet Mayfield says:

    I absolutely love the way you have illustrated the beauty of not being perfect! The piece was very well written – loved it!

  6. Deborah Mrogan says:

    The definition of perfection depends on the perspective of the observer. There is perfection in chaos and in order. Love determines the prefered.

  7. Melissa Face says:

    your house sounds just like mine – lived in and full of love. Beautiful essay!

  8. Karen Hart says:

    Thank you for your beautiful article. Thank you from all the other women who have dared to color outside those lines. Those women who have dared to have children who color outside those lines. Those women who were forced to color outside the lines. You speak for all of us and you do it beautifully. Thank You.

  9. Jan Blue says:

    What a wonderful ” visual” article that reminds us it is in our weakness/imperfections that we are made strong for the Lord. Would enjoy more of your writings in this magazine.

  10. Hello Ms. Mary,

    I guess you are the one who wrote the wonderful story “Sweet Rest,” from the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, right? My heart was so touched and deeply moved for the most beautiful heart touching article I have ever read in my life. The story had a very positive impact on my life. It warmed my heart and touched my soul in a positive way. The author’s writing style is very rich and the story is no doubt the heart of the book.

    Best regards,
    Hamza Balol
    Saudi Arabia

Leave your mark with style to Julie

Comment in style

Stand out from the crowd and add some flare beside your comment.
Get your free Gravatar today!

Make it personal

avatar versus gravatar Close