Making an impact by combining your passions and challenges
As a longtime quilter of 35 years, I tend to look at life through the lens of a quilt. You take all these separate and seemingly disjointed pieces, put them together and magic happens. The finished quilt is beautiful, colorful, and the fabrics you couldn’t imagine fitting together somehow managed to form a cohesive whole. I believe the same can be said about life.
There are times when we have separate, sometimes crazy pieces of our lives where we can see no connection, beauty or wholeness. Then, suddenly one day you notice your life is starting to fit together, and a beautiful pattern emerges. The key is remaining open to life’s possibilities and trusting in the process.
In my case, I faced many challenges growing up, often feeling anxious and lost. One of the positive pieces of my life was my love of reading. I learned to read at the age of five and have never stopped. I believe reading saved me in those difficult years. It filled my life with hope and the guidance I needed to move forward.
In my mid-twenties, a seemingly separate chapter of my life arose. My cousin wanted me to take a quilting class with her. I had no idea back then what that even was; I thought you bought quilts at the store. But I went, simply so we could do something together. I learned to quilt, even though it took two years for me to finish my sampler quilt because all the stitching was done by hand. It was quite tedious, and I didn’t know if I would ever make another one.
I didn’t pick quilting back up again for a few years, until I had a baby and stopped working. New tools had been invented, and now it was easier to cut and then sew quilts by machine. Still, it wasn’t a large part of my life. It was simply one of those unconnected threads that didn’t really seem to fit in easily with other things.
In my thirties, I was sick and home a good deal, struggling to get a diagnosis. I had two young children by then, and life was difficult. I often felt lonely, as if everyone was out living life but me. I had family and friends, but still there were many lonely days when I struggled and felt lost. Somehow, quilting found me again in the midst of all that and provided a healing space for me, as I made a few quilts here and there.
When I started to feel better, I had a strong vision about making quilts for people who were sick and struggling – people who felt as I had, lost and lonely and somehow off the path of life. I could clearly see that the quilts represent God’s love, and people could wrap themselves up when they were hurting, and hopefully it would be a healing experience. So, I started to make quilts when I heard about someone who might need one. I had limited time and money, but I felt that I was being led to make them for those who really needed them.
And then, as time went on, I got introduced to fabric crayons, markers and pens. And one day after I made a quilt for someone who had cancer, this idea popped into my head. What if the family and friends of this person could write messages on the back of the quilt? Then, the receivers not only got to wrap themselves up in the love of God, but they could wrap themselves up in the love and thoughts and prayers of people who cared about them.
Even when people under the quilts were alone, they wouldn’t have to feel lonely and abandoned by others. Thus was born what I call my interactive quilts. Combining what I believe are the healing power of words and the healing power of quilts – with my difficult journey through my own dark and lonely days – I have managed, with the help of God, to see how everything that happened in my life has a purpose and creates beauty.
I made a quilt for my Dad when he was dying from cancer. My Dad’s favorite holiday was July 4th, so it was easy to decide the colors for his quilt top. I used 20 different patriotic fabrics. On the back of the quilt, our family and close friends wrote their thoughts about him and what he meant to them. My mom, my six siblings and I, our spouses, his twenty grandchildren, his siblings and their spouses and others shared fond memories, wrote prayers and filled the back with as much love as possible.
Dad was quite touched, and it was nice to see the quilt covering him when he napped. Two days before he died, Dad told me that he had left a message for all of us on the back of the quilt. I didn’t look at the message until the day after his death, and then I shared it with the family. We feel very blessed to have this final message.
Over the last 11 years since his death, my brother and one of my nieces have tattooed the message on their bodies; my sister-in-law had a wooden plaque engraved with the message for my brother’s office; my siblings have sent group texts during difficult times to remind each other what Dad wants us to know; and every year on Facebook, someone – usually a grandchild or two – will post the message to the rest of us. Interactive quilts take on a life of their own far beyond what I ever could have imagined. And it’s beautiful to see.
I challenge everyone to take the time to see how the pieces of your life have come together to create the beautiful quilt that is you.