It’s the season of Lent, the period of 40 days before Easter in the church calendar. Five years ago, my granddaughter, then 6, asked me, “What are you giving up for Lent, Oma?” Karina had decided to give up Big Bunny, a stuffed toy she often slept with. The question got me thinking. At the time, I was creating a quilt square each week to document the year I was 60. So I set to work that week to think about, and depict, what I would give up for Lent.
Oldest kids are the most responsible, says the literature, and have the strongest need to please. I’m an oldest kid and fit the description (perfectly.) So when the question of giving up something for Lent arose, my responsibility ethic kicked in. I would be more devout. I would volunteer at the food bank, get into better physical shape, be kinder to my family and husband. I would let my little light shine in this big dark world.
I set to work making a quilt square to reflect my good intentions. Visual elements would include Biblical symbols and quotes stamped on fabric with alphabet stamps and ink. Funny thing, though: it was unexpectedly difficult to do so. The Bible looked like a black blob. And the Biblical text I wanted to include? The letters ran downhill instead of marching in a nice and tidy straight line. Then, oh horrors, a spelling mistake! It was a biggie. Instead of “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends”, I’d written “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his FRIEDS.” I grinned at the image this conjured up of Kentucky Fried Friends, dipped in batter, tossed in hot oil till toasty brown. Then I wiped that silly grin off my face. “This is Lent we’re talking about – this is no laughing matter,” I chastized myself.
So I started over. With my rubber alphabet stamps, I carefully began printing, one letter at a time, on the fabric, “What will you give up for Lent?” Unfortunately, I only got as far as “What will you give uq...” UQ? Aghghg. And yet...those Kentucky fried friends had opened a chink in my Responsibility armour, and this latest mishap hit me in my funny bone. Clearly, there was a message for me here: loosen up, you uptight broad. So I did. In big bold letters I printed, “What will you give uqp for Lent? PERfecTio n I sm.” I proceeded to add more “misteaks” to the square, giggling giddily at my recklessness.
I’ve thought about that message a lot recently. I’m a slow learner...I only gave up my need to be “better” for a season, then plunged right back into my old ways. How often do we beat ourselves up because we don’t measure up to the “ideal” – the perfect mother, worker, volunteer, friend, wife, daughter, body – you can fill in your own blank. Be a good girl (or boy.) Don't colour outside the lines. You can do better. The messages keep coming. Yet how much joy do we miss while trying to live up to an impossible ideal?
I wander into the woods while thinking this through, and realize here there’s a better message here for me.
The winter storms have been hard on the trees – lots of deadfall litters the forest floor. It’s messy – and beautiful. It's beautiful because I know these fallen logs are part of the earth's process of replenishing nutrients which will nurture new life. Saplings spring up from the rotting log incubators, and wild flowers dance around them in the breeze. The stumps and logs in the stream may not look so pretty, but they provide resting places and shade for the salmon during spawning season. Walking in the woods restores my soul – I see myself as just a little point of sparkling light in the world, joining in with all of creation, and it’s not so important to be perfect anymore.
I am a unique human being, with strengths and weaknesses, who is on a journey to discover how best to live in this world in a way that honours the Creator who made me. That’s about it in a nutshell. Especially now as we prepare for Easter time, it’s not about rules, it’s all about grace. Laugh and dance and sing and make some mistakes, cry a little and move on – the perfection police have been fired. We’re forgiven and every day is an opportunity to live renewed.
It’s Lent again, five years later. “What are you giving up for Lent, Oma?” “PerFeKtionAsm, Karina!”
Wanna join me?
Yesterday, I took a workshop on improvisational quilting, taught by Pippa Moore. Improvisational quilting means that you make it up as you go along. There are no quilting police to tell you your points don’t match or you haven’t followed the instructions.As one old-time quilter says, “That’s not a mistake – that’s just a different way of doing it.” Here's one of Pippa's samples, an improvisational take on trees in the woods: feast your eyes on it.
Here’s what I’ve done so far -- these pieces, eventually, will be a table runner to bring spring sunshine to our dining room table when the skies are grey. It's nowhere near perfect, but I am having fun. When it's finished, I'll post a photo.