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.
As we are aware that the habits we instill in our children will carry through to their adult years, I recently worked my way through the “Practical Personality” material by Mystie Winckler and did my best to “type” each of the kids, and both parents.
Hubby and I studied the information on each child and made a list of strengths and weaknesses we wanted to be aware of as we made our plans for the coming year. It’s a tricky balance between understanding their individual needs and coming up with a system and schedule that works for all 9 people in our home. Or if we need more than one system, systems that I can manage without going crazy.
I don’t know that we have a complete answer yet, but there was one result from our studies I didn’t expect. One of the children is a “type” that I struggle to relate to. The risk-taker, highly motivated by reward, wants a grand adventure, don’t-pin-me-down sort that I delight in and yet have no idea how to raise.
I’m not big into risk. I’m self-disciplined and dependable, loyal. Risk-taking, and the people who do it, intimidate me. So how do I raise this person? How do I help them walk in their amazing strengths and use them for good, while fighting some of the struggles that come with this slightly unpredictable bent?
The very aspects of this personality (ESTP, by the way) that will serve them well in their adult life are absolutely daunting to a parent and teacher of this child who doesn’t fit the mold of “sit down and accomplish all of your tasks – do them well- and stay on schedule!” Schooling at home means I can consider the temperament of each child, but it doesn’t mean I have any idea how to HELP build healthy habits and stay true to their God stamp.
Now, obviously, God knew what he was doing when He put this child in our family. He wasn’t surprised and He has deemed us just the right people to shepherd this kid into adulthood. We put our faith in His sovereignty and are grateful that He trusts us with such a fantastic individual.
So, as with most things, we will try something and see how it goes. Parenting is basically just throwing noodles at the fridge to see what sticks. Some days, we don’t see any progress, any indication that anything we are doing is getting through, effecting change or growth. Or even creating a sane human being.
I will admit, I get frustrated when the fruit takes a long time to show. My friend Annie recently wrote about a friend who planted an avocado pit and was surprised to get an actual avocado-bearing tree out of it after several years of being utterly forgotten. She writes,
“But the part we didn’t see were all those days in the middle. The dead days. The days where nothing grew and nothing changed on the outside, but everything was changing on the inside.”
These days aren’t entirely dead, but I have to remind myself that the work I’m hoping for, praying for, aiming for in these people I’m raising isn’t always something I can see. That dormancy doesn’t last forever. And that my hope is not in my efforts, my fruitless noodle-throwing, but in the work of Jesus.
“He alone brings life from death, even when it feels like no new fruit will ever will grow in those dry, barren places.”
P.S. Do take the time to read the rest of Annie’s piece. I’ve been studying through Romans with the SheReadsTruth crowd and her piece happened to strike me right in the Parental Feels. But there’s so much more to what she had to say… Please go read it!
*Those are affiliate links to Mystie’s material, by the way. All proceeds go toward my coffee fund. 😉