Quilting

All That Is Seen

I live in rural Oregon. Everyone out here has a dog. Most have several. We have herding dogs, leading dogs, guardians, hunters, nannies and friends. The commands we use to train them are all different, reflecting both the dog's job and the owner's personality. Except for one command. And we use it often, for all sorts of reasons. We all have taught our dogs this one command, "Go home."

That one command, "Go home," resets everything. The dog calms down and turns towards home. It is almost magical. This week's verse is from Matthew:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. ~Matthew 11:28-30

There are so many ways to rest in God. I have spent much of the past two months working on a fiber art piece. I first mentioned it here. A lot of soul work went into this piece. By the time I was ready to finish piecing the eyes, I was ready to be seen. Wanted to be seen. Knew I was seen. And loved anyways. I worked slowly on the face, but this week I was suddenly impatient to do the eyes. I finished the piecing today:

Art Quilt All That is Seen

Now it's time to sew it all down and embroider the eyebrows and eyelashes. I don't know how it looks to anyone else, but what I see in this piece is acceptance, kindness, gentleness, Home.

House of Prayer

A few years ago, after reading in the book of Mark, I became fascinated with the cleansing of the Temple.

Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of thieves. ~Mark 11:17

I have long been fascinated by this passage because it is the only recorded instance of violence by the Prince of Peace. Jesus was certainly controversial, He didn’t shrink from telling the truth. There were so many things he spoke for and against, taught about good and evil; but the situation in the Temple incited righteous anger. This was not a spontaneous outburst of rage, it was a methodical vandalism, a purposeful cleansing. It seems so incongruous, doesn't it? And yet, this moment has been a bridge for me between God in the Old Testament and God in the New Testament. It has helped me to see that God's concern for His people is deep and wild.

There is so much I don’t understand about this passage, but I do know that in this moment, I am His House. I know that I am to be called a house of prayer.

I entered this project with these questions: Am I a house of prayer? Or am I a den of thieves? How can my body be a den of thieves? Am I self-seeking? Am I a life-giver by my words and actions? Or a life-stealer in word and deed? What qualifies a temple to be called a “house of prayer?

I created this piece a few years ago, but it seemed appropriate to share it here now as we have been exploring the concept of Sanctuary over at His Kingdom Come this month.

I wanted to connect the stone House of Prayer to the corporeal House of Prayer, so I tried to incorporate components reminiscent of construction materials. The fabric print is "stoney."

I found the central image online. This was the first time I used a photo reference that was not my own. I spoke here about the only other time I have used some one else's photo as a reference. This is how I learned that I am not happy with the results when I do that. I feel I am not speaking my own story, which is the only story I really know. It is a great photo. The information attached to the photograph says the photographer's name is Peter Brutsch. Her posture says "house of prayer." I enlarged the photo and traced it onto the back of some contact paper. I cut it out and applied it to a large screen. The paint is Golden heavy body acrylics in burnt umber, burnt sienna, raw umber and fabric medium. I completely mixed the fabric medium with the raw umber and burnt sienna, but left some blobs of burnt umber unmixed. This produced a kind of striated effect when I pulled the paint through the screen that almost gives the impression of wood grain. 

Then I screen-printed some gold dots in the space above and around the figure (I've added arrows to help you see them as they are hard to see in this photo). These dots represent God's voice in the prayerful conversation.

Next, I added some free motion quilted stones for her to kneel upon.

Here I've added her portion of the conversation with God as hand embroidered random straight stitch that raises up from her spirit. I used different colors (red, tan and white) for different types of communication. I've sewn frayed organza (in Bordeaux, I believe) to either side of the space above the figure. This symbolizes the torn veil from the Temple. Because the veil is torn, the flow of communication is open. 

I layered various fabric prints that had a construction material-feel to them.

And here (sorry for the poor picture) is the completed piece. I sewed across the strips and caught some of the layers into the horizontal stitching to reveal other layers below. I did this for several reasons: I wanted more texture, more visual interest, I wanted to think about the many layers of the Veil, how my body has become a House of Prayer and the wild ways God guards this temple. The edges are unfinished and the piece is sewn to a section of copper pipe using thin wire.


Remembering Sanctuary

The week before Easter I started a small fiber piece that I titled "He Is Alive!" I knew what I wanted to do and I thought I could be done by Easter. That was five weeks ago. Every time I work on this piece time slows. I spend hours working and when I look up, I have made almost no progress. This piece refuses to be hurried, and I have finally surrendered to it. Here is the picture I took of it two weeks ago:

 

Here is what it looks like today:

 

See? Slow going.

More confessions:

  1. I knew what I wanted the piece to be. Eyes are such a metaphor for Life. I didn't want an entire face. That would be entering territory I wasn't prepared to enter. I don't know what Jesus looked like and I don't want to speculate at this time. I just wanted eyes. But, once I got started I was afraid of them. As you can see here, I have saved the eyes for last. Honestly, I did everything else first because I felt vulnerable under that gaze. In fact, the thought made me so uncomfortable that I was forced to really consider what I might be trying to hide from God. I worked on the piece with this question hovering near. It has been an interesting month.
  2. I wanted to do this piece using solid cottons because I didn't want the skin color to be obvious--Christ belongs to us all-- and because I wanted to do some hand embroidering. I couldn't pull this off. Turns out I am so addicted to printed cottons that I cannot get through a project without them. [Sigh]. This is going to seriously limit the hand stitching fun I was hoping to have.
  3. This stubborn little piece has reminded me why I love to do this. I am so enjoying every minute spent on it. This is worship for me. This is play. This is healing. This is good.

A friend asked me not too long ago how I manage to "do it all" (which I don't, by the way). This quiet making, this is Sanctuary. God is here. We meet. Talk. Argue. Lean in. Rest. Renew. Here. Sanctuary.

Studies for The Garden: Sketch for the Left Panel

This week, I have been reading and studying. In addition to reading commentaries on this pivotal moment, I have been looking for symbolism that will underscore what is happening in the Garden. Below is a working sketch:

 
 The tangle of branches in the sky is a symbol for struggle. I am going to enlarge that section and write Christ's prayer for unity into the sky. I'll slide the sleeping guy up about an inch (he symbolizes those who don't see the point in being watchful and make themselves comfortable while they wait) and slide the guy on the far left down and to the left about 2 inches so that the disciples form more of a curved line (the seated guys tried to stay awake but could not). This sketch will form the top 3 feet of a 10 foot panel. The rest of the panel will be stones. The stones are symbols of the Temple. The wall is crumbly as the old is giving way to the new. There will be deep browns and greens peeking out from underneath and between the stones because there is Life in God's way whether it is old or new.  I am also going to slide the drooping brome grass (isn't that a great name, especially for those drooping disciples?!) down to about the halfway mark of the length of the panel so it appears to be closer to the viewer and lighter. That will let me make it more colorful.

The tangle of branches in the sky is a symbol for struggle. I am going to enlarge that section and write Christ's prayer for unity into the sky. I'll slide the sleeping guy up about an inch (he symbolizes those who don't see the point in being watchful and make themselves comfortable while they wait) and slide the guy on the far left down and to the left about 2 inches so that the disciples form more of a curved line (the seated guys tried to stay awake but could not). This sketch will form the top 3 feet of a 10 foot panel. The rest of the panel will be stones. The stones are symbols of the Temple. The wall is crumbly as the old is giving way to the new. There will be deep browns and greens peeking out from underneath and between the stones because there is Life in God's way whether it is old or new.  I am also going to slide the drooping brome grass (isn't that a great name, especially for those drooping disciples?!) down to about the halfway mark of the length of the panel so it appears to be closer to the viewer and lighter. That will let me make it more colorful.

 

My library had a dozen or so interesting books on the events of Holy Week. The two most enlightening books so far are Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week by Pope Benedict XVI and Tell It Slant by Eugene Peterson. Here is an excerpt from Peterson's chapter on the Garden of Gethsemane:

A few hours before Jesus is hanging on the cross in agony, he is in agony praying in Gethsemane, The two agonies are the same Agony. The agony is given a name: "this cup." A cup holds liquid that is drunk. The peculiar property of the cup is that we hold it with our hands, put it to our lips, tip it into our mouths, and swallow the contents. It requires taking the contents into our entire digestive system, distributing them throughout the muscles and bones, red blood cells and nerve ganglia. The cup is a container from which we take something that is not us into our lives so that it becomes us, enters into our living.

The cup that Jesus holds in his hand in Gethsemane that night is God's will--God's will to save the world in a final act of sacrificial love. The cup that Jesus drinks is a sacrificial death in which Jesus freely takes sin and evil into himself, absorbs it in his soul, and makes salvation out of it--drinks it down as if from a cup. Jesus' name is, translated into English, "Yahweh saves." As Jesus drinks the cup, he becomes his name.

I am struck by the deliberateness in Christ's choice. He very consciously chooses surrender and all that it entails. Pope Benedict discusses Jesus' humanity and struggle and says this: Just as Jesus will take all of our sin onto/into himself to redeem us, at this moment in the garden the totality of our "resistance to God is present within Jesus himself. The obstinacy of us all, the whole of our opposition to God is present, and in his struggle, Jesus elevates our recalcitrant nature to become its real self." Essentially, Jesus is wrestling not just his own very human battle with fear, but also he has begun to take on our sin and he is wrestling with our collective NO to God. His obedience "draws us all into sonship."

One of my stretching disciplines is a prayer of surrender. I have been intentionally choosing surrender the past five weeks. I can't really claim success. It's hard. Very hard. I am a fighter. I want my way. I want control. This week, I choose to stop looking at (and judging) the disciples and turn my gaze fully on Christ surrendering in the garden. I want to look with my eyes wide open. With my hands open. With my heart open.

Take Me Deeper: Journey to the Cross and Studies for the Garden

I am taking some liberties with the study at His Kingdom Come's Take Me Deeper Project. The theme for the month of March is Journey to the Cross, and I have decided to focus on that broad theme rather than work on each week's individual verse. I want to give myself some space to work on the Garden of Gethsemane piece (which I introduced here)

Much of this week was spent pondering. Jesus went a stone's throw away from the disciples. Exactly how far away is a stone's throw? We threw a lot of stones this week. I also consulted google. The question still plagues me. A stone's throw is mostly used as a metaphorical distance to mean not very far. The same person can say, "The grocery store is a stone's throw away from the house," and mean 6+ blocks away, and then in the same conversation say, "My sister was only a stone's throw away from me when she was mugged," and mean about 2-3 feet away. So, how far away from Jesus were the disciples, and more importantly, could they see and hear Him clearly? 

I played around with where to put the disciples in relation to Christ and the viewer. I thought about putting them in the foreground because they are us. How many times has He asked us to stay with Him? To remain with Him? To watch and pray? And yet we fall asleep, just like the disciples did. But, I decided to put them in the background to give the viewer a chance to say yes to God. If I leave the foreground empty, with nothing between Christ and the viewer, then we are invited into the moment. We can listen to His request for our companionship, and we have the opportunity to engage. So, I am now planning 3 panels for this piece, a large center panel with Christ in the mid-ground, a skinny left panel with the disciples in the background and a skinny right panel that is empty of figures and invites the viewer to step into the story. 

I also did some rust dyeing experiments. I want to use cloth dyed with rusty nails somewhere in this series, so I played around with it. It wasn't about the rust, so much as the nails. I only used nails (ok, there might have been a couple of screws in the pile). I asked my son to bring me some rusty nails from the barn (barns are good for rusting things):

 
 To wash or not to wash, that is the question. I ended up just blowing the big dust and leaves off and leaving the rest of the dirt alone.

To wash or not to wash, that is the question. I ended up just blowing the big dust and leaves off and leaving the rest of the dirt alone.

 
 I rolled rusty nails into bundles, wrapped a piece of rusty fence wire around one of them and soaked them in vinegar. This is stage one, less than 24 hours after dousing in vinegar.

I rolled rusty nails into bundles, wrapped a piece of rusty fence wire around one of them and soaked them in vinegar. This is stage one, less than 24 hours after dousing in vinegar.

 A few days later, the fabric is almost ready!

A few days later, the fabric is almost ready!

 Isn't this great?! I love how it turned out! It is slightly more brown in real life.

Isn't this great?! I love how it turned out! It is slightly more brown in real life.

 I think I will use this one as part of Christ's robe in a later Station. I love the folds and wrinkles.

I think I will use this one as part of Christ's robe in a later Station. I love the folds and wrinkles.

The rust dyeing project was simple and satisfying. I can see lots of rust dyeing in my future. I usually limit my dyeing projects to the summertime when I can work outside. This project was easily manageable indoors.

I still have a few more details to audition before I launch into building the quilt. A little more studying, a little more pondering, a little more experimenting...

Take Me Deeper: Love Yourself and Studies for the Garden

This week at His Kingdom Come the verse is about loving yourself. We are supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves, so how do we love ourselves?

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away;
behold, new things have come. ~ 2 Cor 2:17

But how do I draw out this new creation? How do I participate in uncovering me? Years ago I took a class called Equipping Caregivers. The first trimester the focus was on learning about yourself so that you could get out of the way of the Holy Spirit working through you to encourage and love the person in front of you. I learned a bit about my weaknesses and the areas of particular temptation. Lately, I have been reading about specific spiritual disciplines that stretch and nurture my personality type. I decided to spend the week loving myself by encouraging myself to stretch and grow.

One of my nurturing disciplines is to worship through creativity (surprise!). I have been wanting to explore the Scriptural Stations of the Cross more deeply and took advantage of this week to do so. The first station is Jesus Prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. My plan is to create a piece that, when hung at eye level, will pile onto the floor, and is wide enough that the viewer can imagine participating in the scene.

I love Christ's prayer recorded in John chapter 17 because He is praying for unity of all believers. Unity is what I have actively prayed for the past 15 years. It is a deep heart desire. I know I need to include the words of the prayer in the air around the central figure.

 
 

I found this hymn and have been playing it over and over this week. These are Christ's words to his disciples: Stay with me, wait with me, watch and pray.

In the Garden in Genesis, God walks with Adam. And when Adam sins, God goes to him. He calls to him, "Where have you gone?" In the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ asks his friends to walk with Him, to keep Him company. God desires our companionship. Singing this hymn all week has torn at my heart. God desires my companionship. He wants me to stay with Him and that is my deepest desire as well.

It is this moment in the Garden, when He asks his friends to stay with Him and they fall asleep, that has always made me sad. We just don't get it. We can't see what's coming. We don't understand him. We don't--we can't--understand what's at stake. It feels so very lonely. His Father has already started to withdraw Himself from His Son...and yet, he sends a sacred presence to comfort Him. I want to show that Presence as wind. My friend Valerie is smiling right now because she knows that wind is hard for me to depict. I can show some movement of his hair, perhaps some movement in the grass; but, what I really want is to create leaves that rustle. I tried several different materials, and I am not sure I've made a decision, but I like these leaves:

 They are cut from fabric, soaked in GAC-400, and dried. I left them on the rim of a coated paper plate as they dried so they would have some shape. I tried embossing the leaves on the left with copper embossing powder and I don't think I like those as well as the plain ones.

They are cut from fabric, soaked in GAC-400, and dried. I left them on the rim of a coated paper plate as they dried so they would have some shape. I tried embossing the leaves on the left with copper embossing powder and I don't think I like those as well as the plain ones.

 Here are my crispy leaves on the fabric I've chosen for "dusk." I will build a palette around this gray-blue to depict early evening.

Here are my crispy leaves on the fabric I've chosen for "dusk." I will build a palette around this gray-blue to depict early evening.

This is a long project, but I'm not in a hurry. Immersing myself in this study is nurturing to me. When I come up for air, I feel healthier, filled up, better equipped to love.

Take Me Deeper: Transform Purposefully

This was a tough one. I admit that this one took me significantly longer than one week. Most of that time was spent wrestling. Here are the verses for the week:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. ~Phi 2:12-13

I wanted to show that transformation is a partnership, God has a part and I have a part. But, it is a grossly unequal partnership. I considered many, many possibilities, but struggled to find something that highlighted the inequality while also highlighting the connection. Until I remembered this photo I took of my daughter when she was a toddler, dancing on her papa's feet:

I love this photo. I used have used it in various ways in my work, and I used it in this blog post. Olivia was a delighted and willing partner, but she wasn't really walking yet. Todd had to hold her from above and below for the dancing partnership to work. The verses for this week reminded me of  this: I have a part in working out my salvation, but God carries me from above and below.

Then, I got stuck. I couldn't move forward, couldn't decide on colors, size, anything. Finally, I realized that this photo reminded me a lot of my relationship with my dad. We had a complicated and often difficult relationship. For a long time, I thought he was the villain in my story. Then I chose love and our relationship began to heal. Last year, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. I packed up the kids and our school books and spent a few months with him. He blew my world apart. I prayed Life for him, and instead he gave Life to me. He healed every hurt. It turns out that I knew nothing of the man he was, that I had made judgments that only a self-righteous teenager can make. The whole time I thought I was building a bridge to him, he had been the one building bridges to me. He was doing the heavy lifting, I was just doing the walking. And just when I was getting to know him, he died.

This father-thing, this carrying, this is what God does for me. This is what my husband does for my son. This is what my dad did for me. I wanted to honor this effort in some way. I decided I wanted to write into the quilt the text of some of the letters my father and I had exchanged. I sat down and read through those letters. For the first time, I saw. I saw him loving me. I saw his humor, his values, his bridge-building. It was a hard week. A good week.

 The quilt before adding text.

The quilt before adding text.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I wanted to write his words on my quilt. I tried photocopying, but his script was so spidery it didn't come through. I tried making it into a font. I tried out various fabric markers and dye/paint applicators. I ended up writing my father's words in my hand. I mixed white acrylic paint with fabric medium and used a squeeze bottle to apply it.

I pieced this quilt in oranges. I had intended to do it in blues and I'm not sure what happened. The last quilt I posted here was also in oranges and yellows. Maybe I'm in an orange period. In the color symbolism I use, orange is a symbol for mercy. Perhaps that best describes this unequal partnership. It's all mercy.

Take Me Deeper: Transform Submissively

This week at His Kingdom Come, the verses for the Take Me Deeper Project are again from 2nd Corinthians:

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.       ~2nd Corinthians 3:18

The image for this art quilt clicked for me immediately. I know that where my eyes point, my feet walk. How can I expect transformation if I don't discipline my eyes and point them in God's direction?

I recruited my dear, long-suffering family who are always willing to pose for photo references for me:

 It was cold outside, so here is my farmer-man keeping his arms warm in a dirty sweatshirt.   

It was cold outside, so here is my farmer-man keeping his arms warm in a dirty sweatshirt.

 

 We tried various poses. I like this one of her eyes. Her gaze is clearly on her papa.

We tried various poses. I like this one of her eyes. Her gaze is clearly on her papa.

 We took many pictures, trying different poses. I settled on this one because: I wanted more of the bare arm with its shadows and highlights; I wanted the reference for the strands of hair; her gaze is still clearly on her papa while giving me more room to play with the hair (easy) but less room to try to define the face in fabric (hard).

We took many pictures, trying different poses. I settled on this one because: I wanted more of the bare arm with its shadows and highlights; I wanted the reference for the strands of hair; her gaze is still clearly on her papa while giving me more room to play with the hair (easy) but less room to try to define the face in fabric (hard).

Keeping my eyes on Christ is a truly difficult thing, but also the only true humility and therefore the only antidote to pride. Every one struggles with pride. It is such an internal thing that I don't think anyone can judge whether or not someone is suffering from it. So what is it? I believe that pride is taking my eyes off of God and placing them anywhere else. Only I know when I have done that. I can look "holy" on the outside, but God knows I have lost my focus. I can look arrogant on the outside, but God knows I am gazing at Him. This is an issue that requires self-monitoring. This posture is the only one that leads to real transformation. These beliefs influenced my design decisions. I usually put more into my backgrounds, but I wanted to minimize distractions and really emphasize the gazing. I enjoy analogous palettes, and I decided to go with yellows for Grace. Every time I blink or turn my head, it is a "leaving home moment," and, like the prodigal, I need to find my way back. Each time, God the Father runs to meet me and welcomes me Home. Grace.

One of my personal rules when working on this type of quilt, is that I do not "edit" my fabric pieces once they are cut. I make a pattern, cut my pieces, and however the pattern lands in the cut piece is how it goes into the quilt. This is one of the reasons I like commercial cottons. The way the print displays on a cut piece can be unpredictable. There is a gray mark on the face. It bothered me at first, but I kept to my own self-imposed rule because it is often these little spontaneous blips that the Holy Spirit uses later. I still don't love it, but I don't know its story yet.

My Lord, I want to keep my eyes on You alone. I beg you to open my ears to Your Voice calling me back when I get distracted. Thank You for Grace.

Amen.

Take Me Deeper: Transform Vulnerably

This week at His Kingdom Come, the verses for the Take Me Deeper Project are from 2nd Corinthians:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~2 Corinthians 12:7-10

I do love these verses. I have leaned into them many times in my life, and yet this week as I pondered them again I realized I had a "thorn" of my own that I had never offered to God. I have struggled with poor health for almost two decades. God uses the weak, the weary and the not (1 Cor 1:27) and I have been each of those things at some point--weak, weary and not--and it's true, God gives us a special strength in weakness. But if I want Him to transform my heart, why would I withhold any part of me from Him? I realized that I never considered my physical well-being important to my spiritual well-being. I have fought my spiritual battles with Him, but my physical battles alone.

A new friend told me, "The idea that we have control over our bodies is the great illusion of our time. We have stewardship, not control." His words helped me to see that I was struggling without inviting the Lord into my struggle. This led to this week's art response. I realized that I needed to fall into God's arms, not to collapse in despair, not to quit, but to fall rightly, to let go and trust Him completely in the area of my health. I need to fall rightly in order to SOAR. I wanted to capture this feeling of trusting surrender and I thought of Hildegaard of Bingen's ancient hymn, "A feather floating on the breath of God."

This is a "journal" quilt. That means it is a small size (it's 9x12 inches). Journal quilts are often used for trying out new techniques on a small scale. In my case, I hadn't used my sewing machine for 7 months since I broke my foot. In fact, I hadn't done anything that required me to leave my bed, where I was keeping my foot elevated, for a very long time. I made so many mistakes on this quilt as I struggled to relearn how to push a sewing machine pedal while at the same time move other parts of my body.

Since I was still barely hobbling around, I decided to find a photo reference online instead of making my own. This is only the second time I have ever done that, but I have regretted it each time. Even though I always make sure that the photo is being used legally, there is something in me that chafes with the thought that the finished piece rests on someone else's image. This bothers me in particular when I see the image used in another piece. I settled on this beautiful photo of a floating feather, and after I finished quilting it found that a dear friend of mine had used the same photo reference and painted it in watercolor. That was frustrating on one level, but I have to admit that it was kind of lovely on another. It felt like we had unwittingly collaborated to convey the same image in two different mediums. For this piece, I am happy with that. For the future, I need to stick to my own images!

The colors I chose purposefully. Here is a brief color symbolism dictionary for this piece:
Light blues=Breath of God, inviting us higher/deeper
Dark blues=Peace, justice
Oranges=Mercy
Yellows=Grace
Purple=Royalty
White-Resurrection

All pieces are sewn using a 1/4 inch seam, zigzagged on top. Then I thinned white acrylic paint with fabric medium and stamped the circles (meant to represent light). I machine embroidered over the feather, then added hand embroidered white swirls (for breath/wind movement). I assembled the quilt, machine quilted it, and bound it.

Here it is in my project journal. See? Small.

My Lord, I am weak and weary and "not." I offer You my body over which I relinquish what I thought was control. Only You have control. I simply have stewardship. I want to be a good steward of this gift. Help me to steward while leaving control in Your Hands. 

Thank you for the thorns You have used and will use to transform me. It scares me to say that, but it scares me more to stay where I am. I let go. I trust You.

Amen.

The Remembering Time

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Hebrews 12:1

November is the Remembering Time. These early days in particular are dedicated to reflecting on the "great cloud of witnesses." For me, this is valuable as a reminder that I have never been left to take this journey alone. God has provided persons for every step. I have been mentored by the faithful lives of those mentioned in the Bible: Joseph forgave great betrayals; Eve's pro and con list often looks a lot like mine; Elijah spent himself to exhaustion in service; Moses gave up his life and then gave up his life and then did it again...and again. I have been accompanied by the lives and writings of St. Teresa, St. Francis, George Mueller, Henri Nouwen and so many others. I have been taught by faithful family members and members of my husband's family, by people I have only met for a few minutes and a couple of people who know me well and still call me "friend."

And what do these witnesses do? They inspire us to continue to move forward. They remind us to be. Today I am myopic. I can't see far and deep into the story, but I don't have to. God has placed witnesses close by. And standing on either side of me are some beautiful examples. The people who bookend me--my children and my father--inspire me. Here are two creations inspired by them.

"Braving the Tides" is an art quilt I did of my boys. My oldest son, Gabe, is a special needs kid. Every time he encounters a new situation he slips his hand into his younger brother Nick's hand. On the first day of Junior High group at church, Nick walked into the room full of excitement that he was going to make new friends. He is a very social kid and he loves people. He is also very socially aware. Just as he was approaching a group of 7th grade boys, Gabe slipped his hand into his. I watched them from the door. Nick never let go of Gabe's hand, even though I am sure he knew it could be social suicide. I watched them for a long time. Later, when I came back for them, they were still holding hands. That night I told Nick how proud I was of him for holding onto Gabe for as long as Gabe needed him. Nick said, "Why wouldn't I? He is my brother." I thought about how much Gabe trusts Nick. How he knows he can lean on him when he is scared. And I thought about how much Nick is willing to sacrifice for Gabe.

 "Braving The Tides" ©2008 Michelle Winter. In this interpretation, the boys are golden, almost glowing in the twilight, while the tides swirl around them. The waters are at once beautiful and unpredictable.

"Braving The Tides" ©2008 Michelle Winter. In this interpretation, the boys are golden, almost glowing in the twilight, while the tides swirl around them. The waters are at once beautiful and unpredictable.

Several years ago, I took a picture of my little boys at the beach not long after Gabe recovered from a stroke. That picture captured a moment of gratitude for me. Gratitude for the lives of those boys and for the plan God has for them. In that moment I realized that He was not just my Father, but also the Father of each one of my children. That photograph took on new meaning for me on that first day of Junior High, and I wanted to revisit the image more symbolically. The quilt, "Braving the Tides," was the result. My sons were pre-teens with all the pressures that implies. And yet, they continued to face Life together—one brother leaning on the other with a trusting love, the other holding him up with a patient and enduring love. They were brought together and are held together by the Holy Spirit—their love for one another an example to me.

My father was a diplomat by vocation. His perseverance was another great example to me. Below is the first poem I wrote that he didn't see. It is about the unique value of each person and it is about doing the task God has given you, two things my father lived.

No More

The bridge builder put down his tools,
"No one thanks the bridge builders,
I will build bridges no more."
At first few took notice
They did not care to know peoples on islands they had never visited.
But then the old bridges crumbled
And brothers were stranded apart.

The peacemaker closed his door
"No one is interested in peace,
I will fight for peace no more."
And things continued as before
But the injustices, wounds and offenses piled high
And the walls became a fortress
And the only word was War.

The poet put down his pen
"No one reads poetry
I will write poems no more."
The noisy world did not miss the voice that stopped speaking
But no one called attention to the wonders, no one knew when to stop and marvel.
No one tried to catch the wind while the world struggled to breathe
And then it's heart stopped.

by Michelle Winter

And so, let us run.

 

The Word Speaks in Pictures

I was in distress. For almost two years I struggled with a pervasive, all-consuming fear. It kept me from approaching God. I still attended church, continued to go through the motions, but I couldn't talk to God. I couldn't find relief from the weight of my fear. But then...

During church one Sunday, our pastor led us in a lectio divina. Lectio Divina is a reverent reading of God's Word. It is about listening to the Living Word speak. My strongest experiences with lectio divina tend to be when someone else leads it. I find I am often distracted if I have to lead myself into this experience. I know it can be done and I have had good experiences with it, but by far my strongest interactions with imagination and God's Word happen when I can be completely available to the Holy Spirit without thinking at all of the "next thing." On this occasion I remember the moment, but not the text. I remember that I was sitting in fear-induced darkness and that God's Word exploded in me. The pastor's voice began to read and a picture formed in my imagination. I saw God as a Father, arms outstretched, welcoming me home. I saw myself run to Him and I felt His delight at my coming. I felt safe. I felt Home.

But in the silence after the first reading, the fear in me rose up again and I questioned this picture. "How can I come home, Father? There is so much between us and I am scared." The pastor's voice took up the reading again. Another picture formed in my imagination. I saw a little boy standing at the edge of a pool, aching with anticipation. He was so excited he couldn't stand still, yet so fearful he couldn't jump. His father, in the pool, stood with arms ready to catch his son. The little boy kept reminding his father, "Don't let go, Daddy." But it was clear from the smile on the Father's face, and I knew in my own mother-heart, that the child was truly in no mortal danger. The parent didn't need to be reminded. There was absolutely no possibility of real harm coming to that child.

Those mental pictures helped in the days ahead as I continued to struggle with fear. When I was able to pause and hold those pictures in my head as wordless prayer, the grip of fear loosened. The problem I had was that those pictures were fleeting and my fear was persistent. I needed some way to process the images God had given me. I needed to digest the truths, to take them into my bones.

My need to understand grew bigger than my pride. I asked my family to pose as figures in my mental pictures. I took photographs from every angle. We had no pool, but I had my nephew and husband pose on the back porch as if they were near a pool. Then, I asked my nephew to run over and over again in my husband's arms. They had lots of fun with this and the delight that everyone felt in this exercise was affirming to me. These mental images expressed a Truth.

 See what I mean about delight? Those guys loved the running, love-crashing, nose smashing, bone crushing, hug marathon. (copyright 2014 Michelle Winter)

See what I mean about delight? Those guys loved the running, love-crashing, nose smashing, bone crushing, hug marathon. (copyright 2014 Michelle Winter)

I began to use my sleepless nights to prayerfully pour over the photographs. One particularly anxious night, I sat in the dining room whispering, "Where is the story here?" Suddenly, I saw it. In one photograph early in the photo session, my nephew was feeling nervous. He gripped my husband's thumbs tightly, a silent "Don't let go." 

 Nervous thumb-gripping and tentative little smile. I can relate! (copyright 2014 Michelle Winter)

Nervous thumb-gripping and tentative little smile. I can relate! (copyright 2014 Michelle Winter)

I made a pattern from the photo, gathered fabrics and thread and began to quilt. My studio became a sacred space, a place for me to sit with the questions. The cutting was meditative, and God met me there. The piecing was an opportunity for solitude and partnership with the Holy Spirit. Each breakthrough became a celebration of co-creators. By the time the piece was stitched, embroidered and bound, I knew. I knew that God was holding me and that we could face the fear together. I was even beginning to believe we could conquer it together.

And there was something else. Something I knew in my bones. God was waiting for me in the solitude, and meeting Him there was the only necessary thing.

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If you are interested in exploring lectio divina, Christine Valters Paintner has written an interesting book on the topic. I own it and revisit it often:

The Lectio Divina - The Sacred Art: Transforming Words & Images into Heart-Centered Prayer (The Art of Spiritual Living)