A few weeks ago, I woke with a pain in my side, most ‘scruciating.* Ever faithful, my husband, Andrew, took me to the doctor. While I cried and whimpered in the waiting room, he filled out the paperwork, answered all of the questions, and held my hand. Once we saw the doctor, she promised me a shot for the pain but informed us we would have to go down the street for a C.T. scan.
She commented, “Well, I’ll give you the pain shot before you go, but you’re little, so he can toss you over his shoulder if he has to.”
We didn’t fully grasp what she meant at the time. Andrew chuckled politely and I let out a tiny mewl of humor around a grimace. But here’s the thing – if you ever wake up with pain in your side, most ‘scruciating, do not go to the doctor. Go directly to the ER. Because then they will give you the pain meds and let you stay safely prone in a stretcher while they wheel you down the hall to the appropriate machines.
That’s not what happened to me. My doctor very sweetly gave me enough pain meds to kill an elephant and then sent me down the street to run errands.
By the time we arrived at the Imaging Center, my pain was decreasing, but so was my muscle control. I couldn’t quite form the words to tell Andrew this, so he gamely carried on like I was walking into the building. He pulled me out of the car and tried to get me to stand on noodly legs. I fought to make my lips work enough to whisper, “Carry.”
He didn’t bat an eye, just gently scooped me up in his arms and hoisted me across the parking lot. It was every Jane Austen movie I’d ever watched where the hero carries a swooning heroine through the rain to safety, only I was wearing sweats and a t-shirt, and Andrew’s collar didn’t gape open fetchingly. I wanted to tell him this, but I think the only sound I managed was a grunt into his shoulder where I was resting my head to keep it from bobbing wildly.
And that’s a pretty good picture of a Biblical “love one another” – in marriage and in the Body. This is shouldering every cell of the weight, allowing the full burden to seep into muscles and marrow. When I am overwhelmed and weak, there is someone to scoop me up and carry me. Andrew didn’t stop halfway across the parking lot and say, “Now, you carry me.” No, he carried me all the way and expected nothing in return. This applies whether I need a sweeping Jane Austen rescue or if a friend from church carries me groceries when I am ill. It’s a love that doesn’t keep score, that gives and stands in the gap, holds us together and brings us casseroles.
This is loving like Christ. There is no reciprocity here. I can’t carry Jesus. My tiny little acts of worship and service are mere shadows of the work and glory He deserves. My offering is clay to a God of wonder and mettle. But He scooped me up when I was dying of my own ugliness and called me His. He carries me now, through the day to day living on this fallen earth with imperfect people. He lets me hang limply in his arms, relying on Him for strength and support. He carries me, though I have little, if nothing, to give in return. He loves me because He’s Him, not because of what I do for Him.
And while I know I’m not breaking any new ground here with my metaphor, it was a sweet reminder to me as I slithered out of my husband’s arms down into a waiting room chair that I am carried. I am held – both imperfectly here on this earth and perfectly in spirit. I couldn’t lift my head, but my heart thudded my thanks before I slipped away into relief.
I approach the throne of glory
Nothing in my hands I bring
But the promise of acceptance
From a good and gracious King
I will give to You my burden
As You give to me Your strength
Come and fill me with Your Spirit
As I sing to You this praise
You deserve the greater glory
Overcome, I lift my voice
To the King in need of nothing
Empty handed I rejoice
*With gratefulness to Mr. Rudyard Kipling for his phrasing.
**I’m fine now. No worries.
When I tripped and fell and wrote a novel, I struggled a little to justify it. I had this feeling that fiction was somehow “less than.” It was just a story. It had a happy ending because fiction really should.
But my story wasn’t a biblical allegory like Narnia. It wasn’t particularly deep. It wasn’t the parenting book people think I should write (I shouldn’t, I’m clueless) or a practical treatsie on creativity in the middle of mothering that I wanted to write (somebody else wrote that better.) It was about people I made up.
I started with a single scene. I plugged along to entertain my family. I finished it because I wanted to spend more time in the world and with the characters. But I still felt the need to apologize because all I wrote was a story.
My dad says, “‘Every story is just a reflection of the Grand Story.’ Is there goodness? Does it share truth? And is it beautiful and edifying? If the answer to those questions is ‘yes,’ then keep writing.”
And because my daddy is smart and sometimes I believe him, I’ve carried on with my story and my writing because… God made me. And I made this thing. And it’s not brilliant, or practical, but I used the gifts He gave me and made something I think is good. And I think that brings Him glory.
I saw this word picture in action recently when I took my daughter to hang out with the Sewing Ladies at church. This sweet group of ladies gets together twice a month to use their gifts with needles to bless others. They make quilts for every foster baby that comes through our church. They make quilts for the mission downtown. They make blankets and underwear and dresses out of t-shirts for children in Uganda, Haiti, Cuba, and just down the street.
They piece together these scraps of fabric they find at thrift stores, or cull from their own hordes, and they weave them into patterns and pictures, cheerful colors with embroidery and words of encouragement. They haul their big fancy sewing machines – and these women drive some Cadillacs of sewing equipment- into the student center and they spend the day chatting and stitching. They also let any young people, like my daughter, join them and they cheerfully fix their sewing machines, rip out their mistakes, and give them as much fabric as they want to practice on. They have such a Titus 2 vision for their little group. Everybody is welcome. And everybody will be put to work. Even me and my unskilled fingers can iron and pin and cut. (I offered to write a haiku about quilting, just so I could actually exercise a talent I was gifted in. Nobody took me up on it.)
As I worked at my post at the ironing board, I heard all of the conversations around me, how they took certain projects home with them and worked on the in between days, creating new patterns and matching up fabrics. The hunt for just the right fabric for a quilt would sometimes take two or three women digging through their stash and offering suggestions. What struck me was how deeply they cared. These blankets go to people with so very little. No comforts of home. They don’t have to pick out that one little missed seam or search for the perfect fabric to match, those blankets would serve a purpose without perfection… but they do. Because they don’t just want to meet a need, they want to make it beautiful.
They’re using their gifts, which are infinitely practical, and making something not just good… but beautiful. This song of worship humming through machines and careful fingers travels literally around the globe. The women told story after story around lunch at the ping pong table about seeing their blankets turn up in unusual places. One lady was praying over her quilt and felt the need to put a specific poem in embroidery right into the quilt. Six months later, she met a lady holding a foster child wrapped in that special blanket who showed her the poem and told her how special it was to her. That foster mom had no idea she was talking to the woman who made that blanket.
Another family received a blanket for their first foster child from these women and then, six months later, a second blanket for the sibling they were fostering. Though the blankets were made at different times and by different women, both quilts had identical fabric on the back – something that wove those two siblings together.
As one lady put it, “Life really is a tapestry and mostly we only get to see the back, with all the tangles, knots, and mistakes. But every now and then, in a moment when you recognize your fabric on a child in Africa who is beaming from ear to ear, God flips that tapestry around and shows you a glimpse of what He’s up to. And it’s so beautiful.”
Sewing seems like a basic skill (to those who can do it.) It’s not glamorous. It doesn’t make much money and is, at its heart, a menial chore. But these women take that gift, and it really is a gift, and make it something beautiful. They send their fingers flying over fabric like mine fly over a keyboard and together we hum our little worship song and toss our beauty into the world to see how far it goes.