Contentment and Seeing the Gift in Stormy Times

Powerful wind gusts keep hitting the house tonight. Rain seems to fly sideways in sheets of water on nights like this. So thankful we have warmth, shelter and His Presence with us.

When we first moved into this home, I would lay awake during big storms wondering if everything outside would withstand the surprisingly strong winds and rain battering the house. I’d go outside and check after the storm, relieved that the shingles remained on the roof, and everything looked okay.

This past year or more has been a storm of another kind. Around the globe, lives have been altered by a pandemic that has left very few untouched in one way or another.

Maybe one of the lessons for many people during this strange time in history is the opportunity to learn to be content with simple joys, with quiet time, with those God’s given us to love.

While a global pandemic tests the limits of many people psychologically as stay home orders and other restrictions impact life, and a second wave of the virus emerges in various places, many people have struggled emotionally.

The high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide have been a serious concern. The west coast fires raging through our states also added major stressors and we have met some who lost their homes or businesses during that intense time as well. As a retired counselor and writer, I’m always concerned with how people manage to cope with tough times.

But I’ve talked to a few friends who have cultivated a different sort of mindset, one which serves them well. They’ve invested in their marriages or a few close relationships.

One friend describes this past year as a wonderful gift. She and her husband are closer than ever and she’s enjoyed being home on their beautiful century farm, living differently than usual, but joyfully.

My husband and I have come through this year closer and stronger, not without some storms along the way. However, our marriage has been ultimately strengthened by the unexpected blessing of more frequent and intensive time together.

We’ve learned how to support one another and work through conflict better. We’ve identified areas where our needs weren’t getting met very well, and we’ve worked on improving these areas.

We’ve found renewed joy in simple pursuits. We’ve healed and grown and changed. We’ll emerge from this time a better team and more aware of the gift we have in each other.

We’ve also grown closer to some of our extended family as we’ve navigated these strange times together. The issues that come along with aging parents and other life stages don’t just disappear because of the added layer of a pandemic. We sure don’t take time with loved ones for granted right now and we often pray about ways we can support them better as they face their own tough storms.

We’ve also taken time to deepen friendships that are life-giving and deeply encouraging. Having weathered some intense storms in terms of major losses to grieve and adapting to challenging health, we are reminded anew that life is a precious gift.

I hope we’ll never take for granted the gift of those God has given us to love.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen

a new passion

Today I began a new adventure–I took my first quilting lesson from a talented friend in her cozy farmhouse quilting room.

For many years I have admired quilters, but never really had the opportunity or time to learn how to quilt. When I was a young girl, my mom sewed some of our clothes and I loved her thoughtfulness and skill. I felt loved when she created something new for me to wear. Mom also milked her Jersey cow, Sunshine, twice a day to provide milk and cream for our family. She grew gardens and her cooking was legendary. She made delicious homemade ice cream, and she prepared waffles with strawberries we raised, adding fresh whipping cream and homemade butter. We caught the school bus with content tummies, happy to head off to our country school despite the hour long bus ride each way.

When my mother graduated from high school, her parents gave her a Singer Featherweight. I’m sure my Grandma sacrificed a lot to buy this sewing machine. With a large family, they didn’t have much extra cash to spare. Within a few years, mom married my father, and by the time she was 22 I was born. My older sister joined this young family a few years prior to me. A few years after me, my brother came into the world.

My mom wanted to be sure that my sister and I learned to sew. Mom loved to share things that she had a passion for, so she negotiated with us. I either had to take a sewing class or sit down and learn to sew something to show her that I had learned this vital skill. So I sewed a light pink terry cloth nightshirt to prove that I could sew. Then I went out to the barn and never picked up this machine sewing process again. Except I did sew up burlap gunnysacks after I carefully filled them with grass seed and weighed them in at fifty pounds. I liked sewing those bags as I ran the big dusty grass seed cleaner around the clock. We had to stencil the lot number onto the bags with this black ink brush.

Over the years, I enjoyed mending things by hand with a needle and thread. However, my first attempts using that Singer sewing machine caused a bit of motion sickness. So I would rather go ride a horse or chase cows, or spend time outdoors. On a farm, we had plenty to keep us occupied. Leave the domestic stuff to other girls.

Earlier this year, my mom offered me her Singer Featherweight. She lives with vision impairment which makes sewing no longer feasible. So, she gave her treasured machine to me. In the small rural town where we live, and in the surrounding countryside, many women love to quilt. So several women have offered to teach me some basics. When I showed Karen Wells my featherweight, she offered to set it up for me and teach me how to quilt. She has known my parents for many years, and Karen has a wonderful gift for teaching and encouraging others. During this pandemic, one wonderful blessing has been getting to know her.

So today I arrived at her farmhouse across the field from where we live excited to get started. She showed me her stacks of fabric pieces which I could use for learning with this first project. She had an example of a table runner which is a good initial effort. Then she told me how to get started. I laid out all of the pieces of adequate size for the elements of this project in the color theme that I liked. She told me to arrange them all according to lighter, medium and darker colors. Just handling these pretty fabrics gave me joy. I found myself smiling often.

Then Karen showed me how to iron, spray starch, and then iron the fabrics one more time. After that, she taught me how to cut the pieces using her tools. I loved being around Karen and the other woman she is teaching, listening to peaceful music and sharing our lives a bit. I felt like part of centuries of this wonderful tradition of quilting, even on this first exposure to the task.

Recently I put together a puzzle. I do that about once a year, and enjoy praying as I do so. This first step of learning to quilt reminds me a bit of doing a puzzle, except at the end of the process I’ll have something lasting to enjoy or share with others. It’s also a more creative endeavor. As Karen said, if I ever need to make a quilt to keep us warm, I’ll be able to do that. Pandemics bring out the pioneer in many of us as our normal rhythms of life face ongoing disruption. On the bright side, the slower pace of life has allowed some of us to try new things. Just as importantly, I’m excited to have a creative outlet which is life-giving. Oregon winters are often cloudy and dark. The fun colors will lift our spirits, and having time with these two women will be really enjoyable.

I’m excited to have embarked on this journey today. One day, when I’m wrapped up in my first quilt, I’ll see a dream fulfilled. Thank You, Abba Father for this new adventure.

Psalm 90:17 (NASB)

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes,  confirm the work of our hands.