The Thanksgiving Quilt

 

A sense of accomplishment began welling up inside of me. There I was running the last lap and the finish line was in sight. In my case, there I was sewing the last lap of my second quilt, piecing and stitching by hand the dreaded binding, which for me—a self-taught, novice quilter—was tricky beyond tricky.  IMG_1565

Just as a runner’s legs grow mushy in a race, my fingers were mushing up from the repetitious sprinting they were doing. With a thimble protecting only one finger, the others had to put up with the constant pain of being pricked by a needle. It was especially painful when the needle inadvertently stuck under the nail of my thumb. “Ouch” wasn’t the only word being uttered under my breath, making my husband look up from his reading and lovingly chide me with what I already knew.

“You may want to rethink holding a quilting group at the church if that is what comes out of your mouth.” It was then I wondered about all those faded black and white pictures of women quilting I would gaze at as a child.

My mind romanticized the quilting circle, picturing a serene gathering in what would be the house of my dreams—12 over 12 Colonial windows (no post-1840’s sash windows for me, thank you!) with a bucolic view of rolling hills where from a distance the echoing of bells could be heard ringing from the necks of the grazing sheep; wide plank floors with a warm patina that comes with age and that gives off a sweet, pine scent when the room is warm; a stone fireplace complete with a loaf of bread rising in the bread oven; and, if the quilting group lingered to dusk, beeswax candles, hand dipped of course, would be lit to guide each little stitch. I never wondered till now, as the needle slid under my thumbnail once again, if those women in bustled and hooped dresses with high lace collars sitting serenely in a quilting circle were indeed as serene as they looked. I wondered how many hurting thumbs and calloused fingers were in those faded pictures.

With my own hurting thumb and another finger completely calloused, I continued towards the goal of getting this quilt done. I was sprinting because I had wanted to surprise my mom with this quilt at our Thanksgiving gathering. It was going to be a special gathering this year for it would be the first time in many years in which my brother-in-law, a newly retired police officer not having to work holidays anymore—would be at the table with us. We would all once again be seated at the table in the dining room of the house I grew up in. When was the last time that happened? I couldn’t remember.

Life has been so crazy for far too many years it seemed, with everyone running in so many different directions. But there comes a time in your life when you realize you have the power to stop all the busy craziness that keeps families scattered. There comes a time when you realize time is not in abundance. The time we have together is scarce and so the time to stop wasting the days, the hours, the minutes to be with those you love is right now.

For time together creates the memories we will need to draw upon later for strength when a grieving or broken heart feels it has no strength to go on. And like little scraps of fabric, time is sewn together into a beautiful quilt of memories that comforts you, heals you, hugs you when the arms you want to hug you are no longer there. But we throw away little scraps of everything—even time—don’t we?

I guess my new-found realization of the limited time we have is a sign of growing older, right up there with the reading glasses that have all of a sudden appeared on my bedside table. Or perhaps my awareness of time slipping by comes with being a minister for when I stand with family by the grave of a loved one, I am reminded that I need to get better at treasuring the time I have with those I love. I need to stop wasting my days with problems and petty nonsense that admittedly get too much power in my life, edging out what really matters. I need to hold on to the “scraps” so that I will have my own quilt of memories to wrap myself in when I need to.

Yes, I was sprinting to get this quilt done so that I could surprise my mom with it at this year’s Thanksgiving gathering. I guess in a way I wanted my mom to have a surrogate hug from me for all those times I could not be there to give her a real one. I wanted my mom to know that while I now don’t get to see her as much as I once did, I think about her always. I was stitching more than fabric. I was stitching love and hugs together. “Ouch!” followed by “!#&!!#!!$!”

You guessed it. The needle stuck under my thumb again. The last lap of this quilt had hit a snag as I tried to straighten out a very crooked binding. I stopped to take a breath and regain my focus. I had to get this Thanksgiving quilt done. As I went to pick up the fabric again, Sofie, my old bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, sauntered over and decided to plop herself down on top of the quilt spread out on the floor. Before I could scoot her off (try quilting with a 98-pound dog on top of the material), she nuzzled her head into the fabric and rolled around a couple of times and then she nuzzled some more before letting out a loud sigh of contentment. She rested her sweet head on top of her front paws and nuzzled her nose deeper into patches of calico. It almost looked as if she was praying. With head still resting on two front paws, she lifted only her eyes up towards me and gazed at me with a look of peace, of love, of joy born out of treasuring the simple things in life like scraps of material pieced together to make a surrogate hug for someone I loved.

It was then I realized I had reached the finish line. The crooked binding was fine just the way it was, and I know my mother would agree for how many times had she taken a cock-eyed, taped together, hanging by one thread gift from me with the words, “This is just beautiful, Donna.”

The sense of accomplishment welled up inside of me. The Thanksgiving quilt stitched out of love had now received the best finishing touch ever. This was a quilt blessed by Sofie. What better gift to give to my mom than that?

 

A Heavy Yet Blessed Weight

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Eight years ago on November 11 I took my ordination vows at South Presbyterian Church in New Jersey. It was a day I learned how heavy yet blessed the weight of serving God is.

It was eight years ago today, November 11, in which I embarked on the craziest journey of my life. On a sunny afternoon in north New Jersey, in an 18th century church that now stood as an anomaly in a congested town that I am sure none of the old Dutch names gracing the weathered headstones in the church’s cemetery would even recognize as the place they once called home, I was ordained to the office of minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church USA.

It was a day with many emotions. Disbelief mixed with awe that was then mixed with tremendous gratitude that was then mixed with excitement for the next step to come that was then mixed with fear and trepidation for that very next step to come. Did I mention the emotions were many?

In just two short weeks I was moving to rural upstate New York to serve another 18th century church. This church, however, was not an anomaly for life in the small village had somehow escaped congestion. Some of the locals, though, would disagree with me for when I first visited their little village many shared with me their displeasure with the eyesore of the traffic light—their one and only traffic light—that winked red, green and yellow at you even when there was not a car in sight for miles. Mind you, the traffic light had already been there for a few years already. Yet the displeasure with it was as fresh as yesterday’s memories. I, though, couldn’t wait to call a place “home” where one traffic light was needed, well, not really needed….

Yes, in two short weeks. There were still many more boxes to pack and even more friends to say good-bye to. There was Thanksgiving dinner to share one more time in New Jersey at the home I grew up in. And there was my last sermon to preach for the congregation who nurtured me into ministry. Ordination day was here and the crazy journey was beginning.

My parents were there that November afternoon beaming with pride as brightly as the sun streaming into the sanctuary was. My brother was there as well in which I was grateful for as his disabled body made it hard for him to get out much. Often it was easier to let him stay home then to go through the ordeal of getting him out the door.

“Please God, let him be at my ordination,” was my prayer leading up to that afternoon, for my brother was the beating of my heart for ministry. He was the one who broke my heart opened to seeing the needs and feeling the pain of those labeled as “not normal” by a society in which I often question the normalcy of.

Ordination day was here and I remember the opening processional hymn soaring high up to heaven as the trumpeter joined the bellowing pipe organ. I remember my friend from seminary sitting next to me and I remember looking back at a packed sanctuary seeing a sea of faces that collectively told the story of my journey into ministry. Among those faces were the chapters yet to be written as members of the congregation of the one traffic light village up north were sitting in the old pews, beaming along with my parents.

The thing I remember the most, though, was the “laying on of hands,” the part of the service echoing back to the New Testament in which the laying on of hands was associated with the receiving of the Holy Spirit. And so the one being ordained kneels on the ground and is surrounded by those already ordained and then hand after hand upon shoulder after shoulder, weight bears down upon the one kneeling. I wasn’t prepared for that moment.

I, in my ignorance, just assumed that the hands would be light and gentle, a show of sorts, just symbolic, simply grazing each other’s shoulders so that the one kneeling would not be crushed. But crushed I was. Within in seconds, clergy who have already been on this crazy journey called ministry, engulfed me to the point where I couldn’t see anything but the bottom hems of clerical robes and a variety of shoes. (Ooo…nice heels. Note to self: Must ask that minister where she purchased those shoes.)

I soon lost interest in shoes as I noticed the hands upon me weren’t light or gentle. The hands upon me were pressing down hard. I felt as if my knees were going to fail me and I was losing my balance and feared I was going to fall over. For a second I wondered how in heaven’s name was I going to get up gracefully after all of this.

Soon, though, the shock of the burden upon me eased, and my worries about getting up off the floor faded. I bowed my head and let the tears of thankfulness fall down my cheeks as I listened to the prayer being said about serving faithfully, following wherever, trusting always, loving all…and then I heard what I needed to hear then just as I need to hear now.

Serving God is indeed a heavy weight to bear. It is burdensome. It can crush you. It can bear down upon you. But you do not serve God alone. The pressure of the hands upon me was my tangible reminder of that. Those very hands that put so much weight on me were the very hands that held me when I thought I would fall and it was those very hands that helped me up when I needed to get up. All of a sudden I understood the magnitude of what I was entering into. I understood what a heavy weight I was to carry and that I was not to carry it alone. There are always hands eager to help and support you. And because of those hands, the weight, no matter how heavy, becomes blessed.

Eight years ago today, on a sunny November afternoon in an 18th century church that now stood as an anomaly in a congested New Jersey neighborhood, I said “yes” to God’s invitation to never go it alone in this life no matter where in life one is going. We just aren’t meant to do that.

Do you feel a weight crushing down upon you? Does it feel as if a burden is just too much? Are you wondering how in heaven’s name can you get up from where you have fallen and get up gracefully? If so, may you see the hand that is reaching out to help ease the burden. More importantly, though, may you feel the strong yet loving pressure of the hand that is always upon you. May you feel God’s hand—THE hand that makes all heavy weights blessed indeed.