Warp and Weft

I’ve been doing a little sewing lately—a set of curtains, hemming a couple of skirts, and, of course, cloth masks. Fabric is one of those things that most of us take for granted—the cotton that makes the threads that makes the fabric that makes that favorite shirt you love so much so you never put it in the dryer. But if you look closely at the fabric, you can see a miniature kingdom of order and uniformity, tiny stitches going one way and tiny stitches going the opposite way. Longitude and latitude of warp and weft.

 

Imagine a loom being prepared for weaving: Yarn stretched taught in vertical lines, followed by shuttles of yarn woven in and out creating horizontal lines. To determine which set of thread is warp and which is weft, you must hold it in your hands and stretch it. If you pull on the fabric one way, there is very little stretch. If you turn it and pull the opposite way, the fabric gives. The stronger set of threads is the warp, because they were designed to withstand the tension of the weaving process.

 

I’ve always been interested in the character of strong, courageous people. What is it about their backgrounds that make them this way? Was it the resilience cultivated in them after some childhood tragedy that made them the “warp” of their families? Or did they learn this strong moral code from watching the Giants of Goodness who walked among them as they grew up? When the “weft” around them stretch and change colors like a chameleon according to current opinions, the strong stand up for what’s right even when it’s not popular, but how did they get that way?

 

The phrase “Be strong and courageous” is used four times in the space of one chapter in the Bible. Flip to Joshua 1 and you’ll see why. Moses, the Israelites’ revered leader, has died and General Joshua is taking over. They are about to battle against nation after nation, and they need to be reminded how to be the “warp”.

 

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. (vs. 6) Be strong and very courageous. (vs. 7) Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. (vs. 9) Only be strong and courageous! (vs. 18)

 

Sometimes I also need to be reminded about the strength of my own design. I was woven with a warp and weft, strengths and weaknesses. There are times which require me to give a little and be flexible, just as there are times when I need to stand firm. Either way, we can heed the words given to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Balance

It took nearly four years to bring our adopted son home from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During that time, I was constantly searching for information about his home country. Did the Congolese President mention adoption at his latest news conference? What were those protests about and was anyone hurt? What illness was affecting the people there? I got in a habit of turning on the radio every time I walked in the kitchen. I wanted the news running in the background so that I could catch any bits of information that I might have missed online. My ear was tuned to pick up certain words: Congo, Kabila, Ebola.

 

Now that our son has been home for four years, I realized that I still turn on the radio while I’m in the kitchen. It’s routine, like flipping on the light switch. But listening to the news I hear on the radio now is too much to absorb for hours at a time. While it’s important to stay informed, I can’t listen to the number of deaths and job losses all day long. It’s not right to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the misery of others, but it’s not healthy to swallow that darkness in such big gulp-fulls. I decided I would allow myself thirty minutes of news radio, and then switch to music for the rest of the day. I would limit social media as much as possible, choosing instead to sit in the sunshine (when available…Thank you, Jesus!) and watch the squirrels and birds in my yard. I was searching for balance.

 

Another way I’ve calmed my anxiety has been through crocheting, picking up my crochet hook and yarn during this time of social distancing. For years, I’ve enjoyed making afghans for friends, but it’s become a new form of therapy for me now. I decided to use the various balls of yarn from old projects to make a granny square blanket for one of my daughters who’s going away to college next year. Instead of making separate squares that would be joined together like a quilt, I chose to make one giant square that would change colors for each row.

 

I began with red yarn in a tiny ring that grew into four little clusters, then a little larger ring of navy, followed by another ring of mustard yellow. Little by little it’s growing, but the rings can only be made one cluster at a time, and those clusters can only be made one stitch at a time. At the beginning it seemed daunting: How would this little stitch become large enough to cover a bed? How long would it take? Though the beginning rings were smaller and took less time to make, they seemed more difficult because I couldn’t see what design was forming. Now that it’s a big enough square to just cover my lap, I am encouraged. Now I see that I can complete it as long as I stick to the plan—one stitch at a time.

 

It’s like this period of quarantine—months made from weeks, weeks made from days, days made from hours, hours made from breaths…one breath and then another and then another. Look for the balance you need to take this season one day at a time. The author of the Book of Ecclesiastes understood this kind of balance when he wrote: “There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth: a right time for birth and another for death, a right time to plant and another to reap, a right time to kill and another to heal, a right time to destroy and another to construct, a right time to cry and another to laugh…” (The Message Bible)

 

He also reminds us about enjoying TODAY: “Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange for the hard work of staying alive. Make the most of each one! Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily! This is your last and only chance at it…” (The Message Bible)

Forbearance

Scottish-born author Robert Louis Stevenson was no stranger to being stuck at home. Although he was an acclaimed travel writer and author of some of the 19th century’s most exciting works of fiction—Kidnapped,Treasure Island, and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—almost all of his 44 years were spent suffering through sickness. Just like his mother and his grandfather, Stevenson continually nursed a weak chest and a persistent cough. He nearly died several times, barely surviving particularly cold winters or after making long voyages.

 

In his poem “The Land of Counterpane,” it’s easy to imagine Stevenson as a weak, sickly boy as he writes: “When I was sick and lay a-bed/I had two pillows at my head/And all my toys beside me lay/To keep me happy all the day.” He had to learn how to find contentment and entertainment while confined to his bed.

 

Though Stevenson was raised by devout Protestant parents, he later proclaimed as a young adult that he was an atheist, telling his father that he couldn’t continue to live a lie. In his final years, Stevenson retired to a Samoan island where he hoped the warmer climate would improve his health. During those last four years, his feelings about religion seemed to change. Stevenson wrote Prayers Written at Vailima, a collection of devotions meant to be read at various times of the day. One of these prayers is simply called, “For Success.”

 

“Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Give us courage and gaiety, and the quiet mind. Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies. Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors. If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving to one another.”

 

In spite of how his late-19th century wording might fall on modern ears, something about this prayer especially resonates now. This man with all his unfortunate flaws and unique talents and the tragedy of his battles with sickness and seclusion, can speak to us in these extraordinary times.

 

One word in particular stood out to me—forbearance. It’s not a word I use in regular conversation, but desperate times calls for descriptive vocabulary. I’m already in the practice of daily praying for patience, but now I pray for forbearance. It’s a word with more weight, like the thud of two feet being planted in place to prepare for the attack of an opponent. To forebear is to abstain, to bear up against, to control one’s feelings. There’s a sense of delaying, of waiting, and in the waiting, an endurance. I can imagine a young Robert, lying in bed with toy soldiers and books carelessly thrown around him on the sheets. He looks out the window and sees a world he misses. He wonders what lies beyond what he can see, both down the street and in his future years. A century and a half later, these are my thoughts, too.

Bike-riding lessons

There are just some things that are hard to teach young children: how to hold a pencil correctly, how to tie their shoes, how to make their beds, adequate basic hygiene like teeth brushing that brushes all of the teeth and showering that cleans all of the parts. And then there’s teaching your kid how to ride a bike. It involves balance and concentration and patience from them and running alongside a bike from me, so the whole experience presents a variety of problems.

 

I’ve been working with our youngest to get him solo-ready for a couple of years. I’ll admit I haven’t always suggested it as often as I should have. Call it busy family or lazy mom or the usual predicament of the 4thkid, it just hasn’t been a priority. It hasn’t helped that he’s been reluctant to ride. Naturally athletic by nature, he’s used to being able to conquer physical activities pretty easily the first time, but this bike thing has been a different story.

 

So when we had that beautiful sunny Sunday last week, it occurred to me to pull out his bike and get him back in the saddle. After we filled up the low tires, he hopped on. Up and down the driveway we went—him pedaling erratically and swerving like a maniac and me jogging while grabbing a wadded-up bunch of the back of his shirt.

 

Not long into the lesson, he said, “Is it okay if I sing a song? It will help me focus.”

 

“Sure,” I panted.

 

“Keep on trying. Don’t give up,” he sang in a made-up tune. “Never give up. Just don’t give up.”

 

We continued until I felt he was correcting his balance issues—going a little to the left if he was too much to the right. Then I slowly let go of his shirt. He rode a few yards by himself until he veered off-road into some grass.

 

“I did it!” he cheered. He hopped off the bike and ran to me in joyful triumph. “I rode my bike!”

 

We hugged and walked back to his bike for him to mount and try again. “I just kept remembering something important that I hear a lot,” he told me, full of introspection and wisdom from his hard won victory.

 

“What was that?” I asked him, assuming he’d repeat some sage advice I’d given him.

 

“You never give up,” he said, proudly.

 

“That’s right,” I answered. “And where did you hear that?”

 

“Ricky says it to Lucy all of the time because she’s always trying to get in show business. And he’s right, she never gives up so she got her own TV show.”

 

I realized he was referring to I Love Lucy, not the careful parenting of his mom and dad. But if it helped him remember to keep trying, even when things seem impossible, then I’m okay with that, especially if it means I can stop running alongside his bike.

Ezra in action