A long time ago it was common for women to collect scraps of clothing and used rags in a chest or a bin. They'd sit around and piece together little squares of their family's life, and eventually, pulled tight by a frame, there would be a quilt.
Churches and community centers still have quilting circles . . . but the whole art is different for most people now. You go to the store and you buy fabric - brand new - the squares match perfectly. There are competitions and prizes to win.
I have a quilt made by my great grandmother Trotter. It's made of scraps of her children's clothing. These days it's just about falling apart - I've washed it too many times for its age, probably. She learned the old way. It was just how things were done. Other women were always quilting, and so she quilted.
I also have a quilt made by my mother. It was her first ever attempt at a quilt. She picked out the squares very carefully - all things she knew I'd love - pictures of a Tennessee Warbler, blue, green, images of the grand canyon. She bought the fabric new and agonized about this quilt for over a year, trying to figure out the best way to put one together. These other women, the older ones, learned because it was done all around them their whole lives. My mother learned all on her own, from books and intuition, and because she was willing to try. She meant it just for me. She made it just for me.
My husband has a quilt made for him by his great grandmother. A baby quilt. Perfect little blue and white squares. She made it knowing exactly who it would be for - a perfect little baby boy.
Sometimes we get to know who we're doing something for. We get to know the part of the story we see as the end or the finish line.
And sometimes we don't know who we're doing something for - we're just going along, creating what we've always created . . . but we don't get to finish our work. We don't know who it's for. We don't know the end of the story and it has to be ok. How many times have I experienced this in music ministry? Even me? And being so young, so early in a career? Sometimes we have to close a chapter before we know what will come next, and trust that everything will be as it should be.
Granny, my husband's great grandmother, pieced the top of this quilt and put it away in a chest. There it sat for years and years. She's been gone since the 1990's - so long before Robbie and I met during college. We were just children. In it are pieces of my mother in law's clothing, some of Granny's own cast off clothing, pieces from aprons and who knows what else . . . and it sat there, all put together with no backing, for years.
Just a few years ago Robbie's grandmother decided to paint what used to be Granny's room in her house. My mother in law and sister in law were there helping to clean and paint when the chest got opened. And they found it - the work of a person who didn't know what she'd been making.
We weren't talking about children yet, Robbie and I. I suppose I would have been finishing graduate school around that time, and looking for full time work in a school. Robbie was trying to get his free lance business off the ground. We were living in an apartment, waiting for the next big steps to happen . . . and we had no names, no imagined faces of future children. While we had no plans, these three women made plans.
They took the top of the quilt to Mamaw's quilting circle at church and for four months the circle worked on the backing - every single stitch done by hand. They went through and reinforced squares with unraveling fabric. They did the border by hand. My sister-in-law chose the material for the backing just last winter, not knowing at first whose child it was for . . . a child that didn't even exist yet . . . wouldn't exist for another year.
Sometimes we don't get to see the end of our work, but if our work is meant to be completed, it will be. If it's meant for someone special, we have to trust that it will be received by that person.
In May this quilt that once had no destination will be wrapped around the shoulders of a real person. At two in the morning when I'm being deprived of sleep for the ten millionth time, it will be tucked around his shoulders while we rock in the nursery . . . while we pace the living room . . . while he falls asleep on his father's chest.
Yes, sometimes we don't get to see what our work will become. That doesn't mean it won't become exactly what we would've wanted.
My grandmother, Mimi, loved Philippians and Romans. Over the years I've become attached to a greeting from the letter in Philippians 1, "Grace and Peace to you from God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ . . . He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion . . ."
How many times have you doubted that something would be finished? How many times have you worried that you did the right thing by making a certain choice? "Should I have waited? Should I have gone sooner? Was it the right time to say those words? Was I wrong to give this to that particular person? Did they understand me? Will it make a difference?"
My mother and sister made this woven blanket for me. They both wove squares for it and then I pieced it on the floor of my parents' living room. Mom and Mary spent a couple of months weaving the squares together. It was waiting for me this Christmas on the family hearth when I came home to my parents' house.
And for my mother? I had a little coin that said this: "If not now, when?"
She said, "This makes perfect sense to me."
We've talked about it so many times - how difficult it can be to have some kind of creative work and not see it finished. Or to want to finish and not know how. I think it's probably a more common difficulty than many of us know . . . maybe we often feel like we're the only ones who aren't completing the work of our passion.
Maybe we just don't get to know all the time.
Maybe we do the best we can with our "now" and then do the hardest work - the work of trusting that whatever we've done "now" is enough. Whatever we've shared is enough. Whatever we've built will carry the ones we love just far enough - even if we don't get to see how far.
Hey - even when we have to give something up, even when we have to move on . . . it's enough.
I know this not because I am always trusting or satisfied. I know this because it's a courtesy that has been extended to me again and again. A grace. A synchronicity.
When my mother in law and Robbie's grandmother gave us that quilt for the baby, they had tears in their eyes because someone they loved made it. They could see this future that Granny couldn't see with her own eyes. And I could see this grace again - this extension of whatever is bigger than our human existence. And it's enough.