Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Filigreed Heart

A friend once
had a name for me--
"Little Water Buckets,"
my life watered
with tears falling
at the most
inconvenient times.
Another friend said
I was blessed
to be a pretty crier--
good fortune for one
who wept often.
I could not understand
what good could come
from beautiful weeping.
My tears did not hold
beauty for me--
I saw them as my shame.
I could not keep them from falling
nor keep my heart from feeling

This tender heart
pierced through with pain
embarrassed me.
I could not contain
its hurt,
so it spilled out
in barely controlled
I remember my prayer
to Jesus,
wiping my tears with
nail-pierced Hands.
"There are too many!"
I exclaimed.
"There are never too many
for Me to wipe away."
He explained.
I did not like His answer
because He didn't stop
the piercing and
my brokenness remained.

I have since learned
to honor the heart
He gave me.
To feel deeply is not shame,
but something else entirely:
It is gift--
enabling me
to step into a room
and to know
what is felt within.
This exquisite pain
has pierced me through
so that feeling flows
First it is a sharing,
and then it becomes bearing,
as I bring what others feel
to the Throne of Grace.
Jesus meets me there,
anointing each hurt
with Tender Love.

My Sweet Jesus
illuminated the
Truth I could not see--
Every pain, every tear,
every piercing trouble,
prepared my heart to be
something beautiful,
a sacred chamber
that He steeps in Love
and pours out with
the healing balm of

To be a filigreed beauty
in His courts
is not a bad thing.
For out of the gore
of piercing pain,
He has arranged
to shine forth
in ways I never


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Harvest and Thanksgiving Joy

I have been reflecting on this season, as we draw closer to Thanksgiving.  Tim and I have talked about going ahead and decorating for Christmas since Thanksgiving falls so late this year, but with the craziness of our schedules, it just hasn't happened.  I am grateful in a way.  There is something Holy about this Autumn time that I am reluctant to let go of.  As wonderful as Christmas is, I hate to miss the quiet gift of trees wrapped in color releasing their leaves to the wind:  a radient transformation morphing into deepening solitude as fall yields itself to winter.  There is something Holy about being a witness to this relinquishment.  There is blessing in waiting . . . and watching the last of the harvest unfold.

In these days, busy with the ordinary, my heart is happy just watching nature's life quietly enfolding my hustle and bustle.  Most of the leaves are down now.  But still I am surprised and delighted by the late-comers, their gloriously colored leaves splendidly pronounced against the grays and browns of decaying foliage.  I wonder if I put up the Christmas decorations if my eyes would be so full of the tinsel that I would forget to see this simple beauty.  It is the beauty of endings, the kind that gather up all that has been, the clearing that ultimately makes one ready for the birth of something new.

Thanksgiving is really a celebration of Harvest.   It is gratitude poured out of  the sowing-weary soul who sees that hope has been answered--the endless labor of cultivation worked.  God granted the growth and brought forth bounty.  The fruits of our labors are never guaranteed, so when they come, we must offer our thanks.  I think of those first Pilgrims gathered around the celebration table, hand in hand with their new Native American friends, together offering thanks for the harvest that would sustain them.  How could they not be overcome with joy?  This Thanksgiving was more than a remembrance of  blessings.  They, who had come so close to perishing, were looking upon the bounty of life stretching out before them.

In honor of Harvest I have spent some time sitting with the story of Pentecost.  In the Old Testament this was one of three highly sacred feasts to be observed by faithful Jews.  Also known as the Festival of Harvest or the Festival of Weeks, its name comes from the 50 days following  Passover, where the first fruits of the harvest were presented to the Lord.  Like most of the Church, I traditionally read the story found in the second chapter of Acts during spring time, following Easter, when we celebrate the birth of the Church, the giving of the Holy Spirit.  This is the first time I have realized its close connections to the season of harvest, which, at least for us today, is not a spring time event at all. 

We know the story--Jesus was crucified, laid in the tomb, and on the third day, He came to life.  The Bible tells us of the ways he encountered His disciples, encouraging them, showing them the truth of His resurrection, rearranging what they thought they knew into something new and incomprehensible.  And shortly before He ascends into heaven, He tells them to stay put:  wait in the place where they are for God's promise.  Acts picks up the story of their waiting:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  (Acts 2:1-4)
 What happens next is that the Holy Spirit enables them to share the Good News of Jesus with others in a supernatural way.  God displays His power to draw others to Himself in a way that only He can through whomever He chooses.  And those whom He chooses are those who have given themselves over to a reality that has turned their world upside down.  They met Jesus.  They followed Him  for three years while He healed people, fed them, forgave them.  Then they hid while He was beaten and crucified.  They rejoiced and believed when He rose again.  They could have gone back to their once familiar lives.  Instead they chose to wait for God's Promise.  Ultimately when they met Jesus they allowed Him the freedom to up-end everything known and trustworthy in their lives.  And finally they see outcome of such foolishness:  Harvest beyond anything they can imagine.

We have the same choice today

When we meet Jesus, we can allow Him total access.  We can give Him the freedom to up-end everything we know, everything we trust.  It seems a foolish proposition.  It feels foolish.  When He asks us to live our lives so differently from those around us, we can get so tired of looking like religious fanatics--freaks of faith.  There is a cost that comes, a cultivation of soul that requires toil, patience.  An investment of blood, sweat, and tears.  And there are no guarantees that any thing worthwhile (at least in the world's eyes) will ever come of our labors.  This soul-tending seems to be so foolish.  A wasted effort that feels fruitless.

In agriculture and soul-tending, the process is the same:  Someone has to break up the soil; someone has to sow the seeds; someone has to pull the weeds; someone has to fertilize the crops; someone has to irrigate the plants.  Ordinary folks labor over the fields of corn and fields of faith.  But ultimately God alone produces the growth.  And with patience we have to wait for it.  We can always do our part.   But we can never do His.

This is why Harvest is so amazing.  It is the miracle of seeing God do the thing that Only He can do.  Knowing that His Power revealed in our lives can sustain us and take us to places we have never even imagined. 

There is a joy that comes with this God rendering in our lives.  The onlookers of Pentecost, did not understand what they were seeing and hearing.  They could not comprehend what was taking place through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through ordinary people.  It's hard to explain to onlookers what is happening within us and through us when God's power is revealed.  Lacking adequate categories of explanation, some just ridiculed:  "They are filled with new wine." 

Truer words could not have been spoken.  Truly these believers were filled with new wine--the new wine of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus had told them that new wine required new wineskins.  As wine ferments it expands.  An old wineskin has lost the elasticity needed to accommodate fermentation.  It cannot contain the new thing that expands within it.  It bursts, and all is lost.  But these disciples, these followers turned believers who have forsaken everything to participate God's Harvest, have relinquished old lives so that they might be created new.  They are the new wineskins, holding the New Wine of God's power and blessing, pouring it out on everyone they see.

This is what I am thinking about as I watch leaves silently falling to the ground.  The last of the crops in fields close to my home are being gathered in.  Harvest is almost complete.  In a week I will gather around a table with family and celebrate the blessing of bounty.  I will offer my gratitude to God for sustaining me and my family another year.  Together we will list each blessing we can think of, seeing if we can take our gratitude farther, deeper than the year before.  There is so much here, in our hands and in our hearts, that we cannot take credit for.  So much of God's faithfulness spilling out all around us.  How can we not say thanks?  How can we not be filled with joy?  How can we not recognize that we did not come so far on our efforts alone, but that God has been here, present always, working quietly along beside us?

I offer prayers of gratitude.  Because God's faithfulness has brought us bounty and goodness beyond what we can comprehend.  When we should have perished, He made a way and sustained us.  And I also look forward with hope.  Because I know there is more Harvest coming.  Just as He poured out His Holy Spirit at Pentecost so long ago, I believe He will again.  I believe that the blood, sweat, and tears of our soul-toiling and soul-sowing are coming to an end.  New Wine is coming to fill us again:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them."  The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.  Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.  May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.  Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.  (Psalm 126) 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why Pushing Through Is Worth It

My spirit has been heavy lately.  I have tried to pinpoint the cause, but it seems a bit nebulous.  A bit beyond me, as if it is not really my own.  Rather I sense there is a deep intercession going on.  It is as if a good chunk of the Body of Christ is travailing a laborious path, and I feel in my own body the ache.  I pray for people.  This is how the Holy Spirit works in me.  Lately my prayers have taken on the characteristic of burden bearing.  But as I listen to friends and loved ones share their hearts, I am beginning to sense that this is a widespread experience of wilderness.  I understand now why the Spirit would ask me to pray for this:  it is a spiritual terrain I have experienced before.

Years ago in a moment of uncharacteristic boldness, I initiated a conversation with one of my favorite preachers who was the keynote speaker at a conference I was attending.  During our brief encounter, I asked him to pray for me.  His words went something like this—

Been a long time in the wilderness, but You God are with us.  Give a faith that is deeper.  A strength that is stronger.  A hope that is . . . .”  I can’t quite place that last word.  Except that I came away knowing that hope on the other side of wilderness, is more than what it was going in.

His words have rung true in my life.  I have found that God is often the One who engineers my wilderness experiences, allowing circumstances beyond my control to bring me to a place of utter dependence upon Him.  At first I fight.  I try and scratch and claw my way out of the situation I find myself in.  Eventually weariness sets in; I begin to sense that God is asking me for a deeper response.  God is asking me for trust.  God is asking me to relinquish myself into His Hands for a purpose I cannot fathom.

Those times when I have given my assent to God, to His wilderness, and to the process He asked me to come through, I have seen emerge every time a faith that is deeper, a strength that is stronger.  A hope that is—hopier.

We often experience wilderness as a vast expanse of emptiness that seems to have elusive boundaries.  It is a season that never seems to change.  We feel stuck in a place where our human gifts and abilities are rendered useless while we become all too well acquainted with our inability to change our own circumstances.  Our efforts to transform our situation meet with limited success.  Progress comes grudgingly, if at all.  Eventually we must make peace with our surroundings, finding direction from there.

During one of my wilderness experiences I was meeting with my spiritual director, pouring out my heart, my frustration at the process.   Her words to me—“Listen for the water.”  I since recognize that in every desert, in every wilderness place, God causes springs of water to appear, the saving Grace in a dry and weary land.  The springs of that time came from songs that soothed my chafed soul—“Come thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing your grace.  Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. . .  .”  The familiar hymn became the night-time lullaby that helped my child find rest, its words soothing my restless spirit too.  While God could not be cajoled into changing my circumstances, I found in Him boundless Mercy to sustain me within them.

Wilderness has a way of showing us to ourselves.  In that empty cavernous space our great big need grows huge in our eyes.  We cannot pretend anymore that our own resources are proficient to meet the challenges we face.  It’s as if each strength and natural talent begins to crumble before our eyes.  And God asks us to trade in our proficiency for His Sufficiency.  He asks us to relinquish our own strong arm so that our weakness can showcase His strength.  He wants to show us what perfect strength can look like.  So He takes us to the only place this is possible—to the heart of deeply felt poverty.   It is here that we must learn to be sustained by Grace, the power that might not pluck us from the fire, but which makes us hardy and resilient in the face of fire.  We have to gather it each day like manna, to stand each day in a place of trust, believing God will give us what we need, when we need it.  And we have to believe that this is not the destination but a waiting place, that the road leads to something wonderful and not just another bondage.  It is wilderness, after all is said and done, that finally frees us from bondages we never knew we had.

I offer my heart, these prayers, these words with the acute awareness that we cannot possibly know when wilderness will arrive or when it will end.  I recognize that many of those for whom I am praying are seasoned believers, they know the Lord deeply and love Him with everything.  They have been knowing and loving Him for a long time.  There is this sense in which I question this testing—“Why this?  Why them?  Why now?  After all they have come through, haven’t they been thoroughly tried by the fires of life already?”  The only answer I can discern is that God is doing a work, a polishing of sorts.  There is something for which He is preparing them, preparing us all, that needs sturdy believers.  We are never placed in the wilderness for our destruction, but only to be prepared for Glory.  Whatever awaits us on the other side is Glorious, filled with Greatness which is beyond our comprehension.  And when we get there, we will be so primed in the fires of adversity that our lives will hold God’s Glory with ease.

So then what is left for us to do? 

We are called to stand strong.  One of the biggest indicators of maturity (and sturdiness) is the ability to persevere, to stay with a commitment, to complete a task even when it is no longer as easily attainable as it once appeared.  To fulfill God's purpose for our lives even when it looks like life would be so much simpler if we didn't.

Whatever it is God has initiated in your life, stick with it.  Whatever progress you have made in your spiritual walk, do not be tempted to regress or stagnate.  Whatever new understanding or knowledge God has brought you to, sit with it, ruminate on it, make it so much a part of you that its truth cannot be dislodged.   Wherever and whenever you feel the nudge, the Holy suggestion, to do something, do it immediately and heartily.  It is God who is responsible for sustaining us in the gains He has accomplished within us and on our behalf.  Our part is to trust His work within us and cooperate with the work He wants to do.  So really the battle is already won.  We just have to stay close to the One who does the winning.

I feel the weariness in my bones, the longing for relief.  But I also know that God is with us, Strength we cannot grasp holding us steady in this place.   He is asking us to look for Him in the ordinary details of our lives, to expect to see Him looking for us.  He is asking us to hold His hand in this moment, to not run away from it but to face it, drawing strength from His presence and Grace with us.  There will come a time when we will realize what this season was all about—the hard-pressed days, the obstacles overcome, the strength developed because difficulty demanded it.  All of it a laboring that toward a new place, a birth process bringing forth something we could hardly even imagine.  We want so badly for it to just be done.  But the gift of hard-pressed days is learning to press on and push through.  The pressure tells us the new thing will be coming soon.

I realize at the end of this that I’ve been writing about what it is to give birth.  This travailing is not a bad thing.  It is truly good.  Problem is, nobody told us we were pregnant and now it is time to push.  There is no way out of the season we are in.  But we can recognize it, breathe deeply, hold tightly to God’s hand, bear down, and push through!  Be not frightened dear one.  God’s Promise is coming to you.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

May the Circle Be Unbroken

Yesterday was my grandfather's funeral.  We gathered in the church where he and my grandmother were charter members.  As plans and preparations for the day were made, the pastor had asked if I would lead the prayer for the service.  "Share whatever words you would like beforehand," he said.  And so I did.  This is what I shared--

I joined the Winters family a few months before I turned eight.  My mother married Joe on Easter.  That began a series of traditions for us where we spent holidays gathered in my grandparents' home, each experience filled with cousins and food and merciless teasing my by grandfather.  I remember that I always had to sit at the kids' table.  I hated it.  Really I just wanted to sit with the grown-ups.  Joe would say it's probably because I was eight going on thirty.  Perhaps it was because I felt left out of what was most important.  (At the funeral yesterday my cousin told me I really didn't miss anything there; it wasn't any fun.  She spent her time wishing she could just go be one of the kids.)

On Monday night there was a special time set aside for the family to be with Grandpa's body before the visitation.  What touched me most about that time is that there was no kids' table.  It was just one big circle of us, gathered together to tell stories, share memories, wrapping our grief and goodbyes in the familiar remembrances that had the power to make us laugh even on such an occasion.  Sons, wives, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren stood shoulder to shoulder, all participants in the laughter, all getting to put our two-cents worth in. 

I loved hearing Joe and his brothers tell their stories, three boys growing up together, mischief makers filled with a wildfire impossible to quench.  I said a silent prayer of thanks for Grandma, thinking once again of my own wild crew of three.  The inward encouragement sounded once more:  "If she can survive raising three boys, I can too." 

Those three mischief makers are now grown; they have children and grandchildren of their own.  But for a moment they reached back into the past and pulled up memories of what it was like to have Grandpa as a Dad.  They told us stories of how he valued honesty above all else, instilling it in them by whatever means was required.  They shared how he taught them what it meant to work hard, to apply themselves to a task, to finish a job.  They invited us into their world of boyhood and what it was like to grow up with brothers.  And they closed with a story of Grandpa's time in the Air Corps, when a plane he was supposed to be on was destroyed before reaching its destination.  Right before boarding an officer took his place in line, forcing him to take the next schedule flight.  Only later did he learn that all were lost.  If he had not been last in line, he would have been too.

We looked around the circle then.  My aunt said what we all were thinking.  If Grandpa had gotten on that plane, none of us would have been sharing stories in that room.  The only brother who was alive at the time was Ron, who was just two.  My aunt said, "Ron, your mother would have taken you to Everett, Washington."  He would have grown up in a different place altogether, and the two younger brothers would not have been born.

If there had not been a Grandpa Winters, there never would have been a Joseph Gilbert Winters.  And Joe is the one who has made the word "father" holy and sacred in my life.  I couldn't imagine my life without him.  He is as good a man as I have ever met.  So good that I married someone so much like him, with all the qualities Joe has that I admire most. 

Sometimes the circle we stand in is made by love we receive.  And I realize also that sometimes the circle is made by the love we give.   Love is what always completes the circle.  I think back to that eight year old girl and I realize that even if we don't start out where we want, through God's love and mercy (if we let it do its work in us) we can end up where we belong.

My cousin Ben said it best as he shared how his life was transformed by God's grace in an amazing way just weeks before.  In the middle of a difficult time, words his daddy shared with him often came to mind:  "It'll all come out in the wash."  Those are words Uncle Jimmy first heard numerous times from Grandma.  They are words I can hear now, etched in my childhood, rolling out in Joe's deep baritone.  Ben says in that moment of clarity he realized "the wash" has nothing to do with laundry and everything to do with baptism.  It's God's grace and mercy and love that completes what we never can.

Since that night standing shoulder to shoulder my prayer has been the simple refrain of a Johnny Cash song--"May the circle be unbroken, by and by Lord by and by.  There's a better home awaiting in the sky Lord in the sky."  May the circle of God's love continue to hold each one of us.  And I am struck by the realization that for the circle to continue, each one of us has to take up our place in the loving, living our lives in such a way that those who come behind will have a legacy to hold onto.  I am thankful for the circle I stand in now, the one begun so long ago by a sometimes cantankerous, deeply loyal, work your fingers to the bone, mercilessly teasing Willie Winters.  It is a good circle to stand in.  And I thank God I do not stand alone.

Goodbye Grandpa.  I love you.  I will see you when I get there too.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Splendidly Mended

When I was a campus minister I always told my students, "Do the God thing first.  Then everything else will find its proper place."  This is a hard thing to hear when there never seems to be enough time to study, when the papers are due and the exams are pressing, when each professor acts as though his or her assignment should take precedence over every other thing going on in your life.  I knew I was asking them to do something counter-intuitive:  to spend time being present and available to God first, before anything else had a chance to influence their day.  Yet I also knew that this priority had the power to guide all other priorities, helping them succeed in ways they could not when relying on their wits alone.

My world has changed since then.  I find myself struggling with the demands of life, as I guess they did.  What comes first when so many necessities are pressing in?  Yet I know time is too pressing not to give priority to God's priorities in my life, even when it makes no sense.

Let me warn you.  This will make no sense.

It happened last spring.  I picked up a book from the library called Generation TEach page outlines a whole new way to cut up a t-shirt and make something of it.  Flipping through those pages ignited a creative fire in me--initiating conversation with the discards in my bottom drawer, refining my vision so that I began to see the contents of my closet with fresh eyes.

Soon I found myself cutting stuff up and re-stitching, combining the scraps of old garments to create new pieces that reflect an emerging style I frankly had no idea I cared about.  Apparently style does matter to me.  And wearing unique pieces that reflect my personality matters greatly.  It has puzzled me, this burgeoning passion for fashion.  But after the last couple of weeks, ruminating on the power of mosaics, I began to understand that what has been coming forth from my imagination and through my hands has powerful significance.  This creative endeavor has been a God-Thing.  It has been prayer.  It has been a reweaving, a reworking of me into something new.  Someone new.

That sermon on brokenness begetting beauty catalyzed my thinking.  I don't have the skills to mend broken pottery the way it's done in Japan.  But I do know how to sew.  And as I thought about what God can do with broken pieces I began to understand this emerging need within me to make old stuff into something new.

Especially the most recent project.  A patchwork skirt.  To literally take the pieces of things that no longer work and combine them into something lovely, every fragment making its contribution.  The need to get this thing done pressed in on me, God asking me to do this one tangible thing so that the unseen quality it points to would be realized.  People could ask me what I did in my prayer time.  I could tell them I spent it at my sewing machine.  Told you it wouldn't make sense.

But this stitch by stitch praying has been making some sense out of me.  Showing me the unfolding of God's purposes for my life.  What has been, what is coming. 

The original articles of clothing were constructed from velour.  There was a blouse, made of  red on black print, etched with roses and sparkles, stunning on the hanger.  Too big, too frumpy looking when I actually put it on.  There were some sleek black trousers.  Sassy and smart with a slit in the back at each ankle.  Something I never have the occasion to wear.  They were snug anyway.  And then there was the teal fabric, in storage for years.  A leftover from my days before children when free time was abundant and life revolved around my own whims. 

I poured over images on Pinterest, hoping to find a picture to guide me.  Some of the things I saw came close, but none really matched the vision of what I wanted.  I finally decided to make a sketch so that I could see on paper what so far only existed in my head.

Once I got that down I made a quick pattern for the skirt panels.  Then I put the pattern to fabric and started cutting.  I knew I only had one chance to get it right.  There was not enough shirt to cut twice. In the past I would have talked myself out of the whole thing, never believing in myself enough to cut right, believing my fear of failure more.  This time I risked failure and instead found satisfaction:  It worked.  And I was generous with my measurements.  Even though I had to re-sew my side seams (a couple of times), I was able to come out with something that was exactly what I wanted.

Lessons from the sewing table:

Lesson number one:  If I really want to live a custom-made purpose, then it's time to start trusting my own instincts, to listen to my own intuition.  To trust that what God has instilled in me for this time and purpose is trustworthy.  For years I have second-guessed myself, done most of life someone else's way.  And it has sometimes worked.  But it has never fit.  Just like those original pieces of clothing, I was dressing in someone else's wardrobe--never comfortable, just making do with what was. 

Lesson number two:  If I really want to live the life I was made for, then I must be willing to surrender the life I have.  That shirt and pants and yardage had to die.  There could be no more shirt, no more pants, no more yardage.  Thinking such as "maybe it will fit someday" had to go.  So did the "I might have an opportunity to wear something a teenager would wear" thought.  And the hardest of all--"there might be something better I could use that yardage for; I should save it."  Letting go can be painful.  In my deepest self I realize this has nothing to do with clothes and everything to do with life.  Who I used to be.  What I used to do.  Expectations I had of myself that never seemed to pan out.  I had to let some important things go that I truly loved.  What I didn't realize then was that this letting go created room for something better to come forth.  Which leads to . . . .

Lesson number three:  all that has come before is still useful.  It's not that we surrender what has been to an empty void.  It's that we surrender our broken dreams to God's hands, and He reworks them into something that is truly for us.  I realize I never lost anything; those scraps just came back in a surprising, yet more wonderful way.  Those original pieces of stretchy velvet, not quite right on their own, worked beautifully together.  I couldn't have accomplished the vision in my head without them.  And the same is true for all those life experiences that were painful, difficult, full of challenge.  Those times that I got burned are what God used as the fire that refines.  Those times that I got hammered, became tools used to fashion  strength and wisdom that could not come any other way.  Nothing has been wasted.  There are no wasted years.  There are no wasted efforts.  There are no wasted mistakes.  God has bundled it all together into the raw materials used to construct something remarkable and extraordinary.  How the old thing is used makes all the difference.  Piece by piece God is able to take seemingly unrelated things and bring forth something honorable and worthy of the highest regard. 

It's hard to explain how I feel when I wear these clothes refashioned into something I truly love.  To say I am happy doesn't tell the real story.  I feel beautiful in the way that I find my own life story beautiful now:  joyful soulfulness taking hard times in hand and dancing until the rhythm transforms the hardness into a deep cadence, pulsating wonder and grace into every waking moment.  The memories no longer bring pain but deliverance.  These old rags have been transformed into something rare and exquisite.  I believe I am wearing art in the same way that I am a work of art.  It doesn't matter if others don't like it.  It doesn't matter if the stitches are straight or not.  They are my stitches.  Put together with love.  And when I wear them I feel lovely, regardless of how I look.

I am reminded of my favorite scripture . . . Isaiah 61.  There is this part that I have puzzled over for years, the thing that has finally made sense: 

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation.  Isaiah 61:10

Before now I simply thought God simply stripped us clean of everything we believed to give us value, so we may come to know our value comes from Him alone.  I thought this was our salvation.  But my sewing machine has taught me so much more.  I've learned that once the false things are removed, God takes our every heartache, brokenness, anguished moment.  In Tender Hands He reworks them, trimming and cutting, stitching and mending, until the finished product is revealed, beautiful and custom made for the wearer.  A new life filled with joy and purpose and meaning.

So now as I feel the weight of stretchy fabric in my hands, I realize:  These fibers are heavy with meaning.  God has been reworking, remaking, re-stitching all  that has been for a new purpose I couldn't have even guessed at a few years ago.  I'll need every experience I've had.  I will draw upon the years of wisdom that have been garnered through lesser things.  All has been preparation.  All has been resource and raw material.  These are the garments of salvation.