Have you ever tried to sew fabric to elastic? If the circumference of the elastic is smaller than the circumference of the material, you need to sew a “gathering stitch” on the fabric.
It’s a loose stitch. It’s not fancy, but without it, you could never pull the fabric together. And pulling it together is a requirement if you want to attach it to the elastic. It’s a necessary step if the material is going to meet its full potential, creative or otherwise.
I’ve got one of those in my story—a “gathering stitch.” It’s been woven loosely throughout my life for decades. It’s a verse from the book of Joshua.
“Be strong and of good courage. Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed for the Lord thy God is with thee, withersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9, KJV).
I hope you’ll pardon the Old English, but I claimed it as a “life verse” when I was sixteen years old and studying for confirmation in my Lutheran Church. I chose it because having God around during my “whithersoever thou goest” sounded appealing. I didn’t know at the time how much I would need the power-packed truths in the rest of the verse.
This stitch has carried me and at times even convinced me that I am:
But as with any good story, there’s tension.
Protagonists, antagonists, battles lost, victories won. Fifty plus years of living has garnered me many stories. Ones that have pulled and threatened to sever my gathering stitch.
- Strong? I didn’t feel strong when the baby girl we waited seven years for was whisked away in a helicopter hours after her birth.
- Courageous? Shaking hands and knocking knees as I answered the call to speak are a testament to my lack of it.
- Fearless? Sleepless nights and the worry that only a mother can bear disqualify me from this title.
- Content? I wish I could say that discouragement has never bested me, but my husband was right when he once observed, “Sweetheart, you struggle with discontent.”
It’s difficult to admit that the very things God wants for me are the issues I grapple with. But it’s an even harder admission to acknowledge the reason why.
Right next to my gathering stitch is my true nemesis, and it is me.
What can I do? How should I behave? What choice should I make?
I love this quote from the classic, The Ragamuffin Gospel:
“Though the Scriptures insist on God’s initiative in the work of salvation—that by grace we are saved, that the Tremendous Lover has taken to the chase—our spirituality often starts with self, not God. Personal responsibility has replaced personal response.” He continues, “The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing.”- Brennan Manning
The thread of self-effort has run parallel to my gathering stitch for as long as I can remember. This particular thread reminds me of the wild turkeys that trespass across my yard. They are ugly, not to mention they poop on my doorstep. The real trick is that I recognize how unwanted the turkeys are.
Again, Manning says it best,
“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe, and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love, and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty.”
My life verse is what I want to be. Some days it’s what I am. But even when I am none of those things, my story has been and always will be about the most excellent thread of all:
The thread of grace.
I am a sinner who has seen love in Jesus’ eyes. I’m a woman who continually receives God’s forgiveness and experiences the beauty and weightlessness of the fresh starts He offers over and over (and over) again.
God’s grace. The depth of which I’m confident I’ll still be learning about until the moment I inhale earth and exhale heaven. I’m forever grateful for a God that is a patient teacher, especially with a slow learner such as myself!
That’s my story… and I’m stickin’ to it!