Advent prayer

 

Advent quilt and candles

 

Loving God, in this third week of Advent, we praise and bless your name. Together with the prophet Zephaniah, we sing aloud, we shout your praise, we rejoice and exult with all of our hearts to praise your name.

Loving God, we thank you that you are our strength and our might, that you are the source of our salvation, as the prophet Isaiah wrote.

We thank you for your loving kindness and for your mercifulness.

(pause)

We confess to you Gracious One, that for many of us this Advent season has been difficult, filled with anxiety and worry as well as grief and sorrow.

(pause)

We long for the appearance of the Christ Child. We long for your loving presence. We confess to you now our longings.

(pause)

We thank you Merciful One, for your listening, loving presence. We thank you for your continual forgiveness.

(pause)

We bring before you our requests, our concerns for others around us:

During the Advent and Christmas season we read the biblical story of Elizabeth and Mary, of Mary and Joseph, of the shepherds and the wise men.

We also read of the turmoil surrounding these people‑‑ foreign government occupation, mass relocation on account of the census, genocide of infant boys.

We are reminded that turmoil continues today throughout the Middle East. We are tempted to stop praying for peace because of the centuries‑old conflict, because of our weariness of praying for the area, because of our own lack of hope.

God of Peace and God of Justice‑‑again we pray for peace in the Middle East. We pray for an end to the fighting, the deaths, the homelessness of a people. Again God, we ask you to move on behalf of our requests‑‑we pray for your justice and we pray for your peace.

We pray for our country and for the conflicts we have here, particularly the racial divides that plague our nation. God of Peace and God of Justice‑‑we ask you to heal the racism in this country. We ask you to heal the racism in our communities. We ask you to heal the racism in our Church.

Compassionate God, we thank you for listening to our requests and moving in this world on behalf of our prayers.

(pause)

We thank you that you are in our midst, that you rejoice over us with gladness, that you will renew us in your love, and you will exult over us with loud singing.

We praise and bless your holy name.  Amen.

(Photo by Kevin Driedger. Advent quilt by June Mears Driedger)

Getting my (quilting) groove again

“A finished quilt is better than a perfect quilt.”  —Beth Ann Williams

I am in the midst of the great sewing room purge. It’s been a chaotic mess for a few years and I was resorting to creating pathways between stacks of fiber arts, quilting magazines, and piles of other stuff.

sewing roomThis corner of my sewing room isn’t quite as cluttered now.

As I was sorting through a stack of papers I came across the notes and directions from the “Storytelling in Fabric” retreats that Beth Ann Williams and I co-led for a few years. The above quote was scribbled across a retreat schedule—I remember quickly writing it after I heard Beth Ann say it. Anyone who has studied with Beth Ann knows she has a treasury of quotable quotes regarding quilt and art making. She also has sage advice on nurturing our creativity:

  • Nurture your creative spirit.
  •  Don’t neglect responsibilities, but remember that you also have a responsibility to your creative self.
  • Chores don’t always need to come first.
  • Cherish the joy of creating – whether you are preparing a meal or painting a future masterpiece.

I am also finishing up two quilts. One quilt is pieced and ready for me to pin it to the quilt batting and back.  The other quilt is for Advent and I am hand-quilting parts of it and will machine quilt the rest. My goal is to have hanging above our Advent wreath before the second Sunday of Advent.

Advent quilt WIP photo-1

It feels good to find my quilting groove again.

Also, clearing and cleaning my sewing space is giving me room to breathe and ponder new ideas for further quilts and art quilts. I’ve heard that “making a clearing” in one’s living space allows room for something new or fresh to enter or emerge. I don’t know if this is true but I am willing to open my heart to find out. 

Mr. Rogers and Quilts

o-MISTER-ROGERS-HELPERS-QUOTE-570

The quilt top was done. I finished it months ago. The back was also finished. But I didn’t like the batting I bought to use between the quilt top and back. And I couldn’t decide on a design or pattern to quilt everything together. So the parts of the quilt stayed draped over the stairwell, taunting me every time I opened the door to my sewing room.

I was stuck. I was creatively blocked for months.

The quilt was made for my youngest niece as she transitioned from a crib to a “big girl bed.” I wondered if I would finish the quilt in time for her to move into a college dorm. I felt terrible about how long the quilt was taking and I was feeling increasing stuck. I couldn’t work on other sewing. My sewing creativity was jammed and bound up in that quilt.

I wanted to give the quilt to my niece and her parents when I visited my family in early March. And my frustration was spiking as the date of my trip approached.

I began to pray about the situation (finally). I prayed about being stuck and unable to find a way to resolve my dilemma. Then the story of Mr. Rogers “look for the helpers” came to mind.

“Look for the helpers.”

And I understood that I need to hire someone else to quilt it. I needed help to maneuver out of my creative block. So I did.

I took the quilt top and back to a local quilting shop and hired the owner to quilt everything together. She suggested a design and a different batting and I knew this was the way to go. As I walked out of the shop, I felt my shoulders drop and I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Two weeks later I picked up my quilt—quilted and bound—to deliver to my niece. I’m not sure how much she likes it but my sister and brother-in-law do!

Quilt front with my niece. Photo by Kevin Driedger.

Quilt front with my niece. Photo by Kevin Driedger.

Quilt back with my niece.Photo by Kevin Driedger.

Quilt back with my niece.
Photo by Kevin Driedger.

I met with my spiritual director just before I picked up the quilt and we talked about my “look for the helpers” revelation. She suggested this was a move toward freedom for me. Rather than me insisting that I do it all, I chose to let others assist me. She suggested this is a journey from inner bondage to inner freedom.

I’m still pondering this. And, I’m praying a new prayer: “God, let me be free.”

And, one answer to that prayer is finding the helpers.

*The quilt pattern was originally posted on the Film in the Fridge blog.

Ten Days Until the Congo!

“Pause. Deep Breath. Slow Exhale. Another Deep Breath. Slow Exhale. One more Breath. Slow Exhale. Just remember this is really a pilgrimage. Be present in the moment, knowing that these little detours in your preparation time are also part of the whole experience. The bigger question is “What is God’s invitation at this stage in your pilgrimage?” Blessings to the three of you on the rest of your pilgrimage! : )”

My wise friend Deanna posted these words on FB in response to both Nancy Meyers and me as we shared our frantic feelings in these few days left to prepare for our trip. Nancy has edited a book about the history and contemporary history of the Congo Mennonite Church—she just finished it. I have the fall issue of Leader magazine to get to the designer before I leave plus a three-day Leader editorial committee meeting in Leamington, Ontario next week. I feel frantic and overwhelmed by all that I need to do in the next ten days. So, Deanna’s good words to BREATHE very wise. And I am trying to breathe.

(Our other traveling companion, Nina Lanctot, has already packed two suitcases and is being present to the moment. Power to you Nina!)

I am taking a banner that Pastor Francois asked to be created and delivered on this trip to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Congo Mennonite Church. A group of woman at Silverwood Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana wanted to make the banner but didn’t have a design in mind. I had a flash of an idea which I quickly sketched out for them. I’ve never come up with a sketch or design for a quilt that someone else made so this was a new experience for me. I wasn’t quite sure how this would turn out.

Here’s the sketch I did—scanned and sent via email to Jeanne Heyerly, who shepherded the entire project.Here’s the sketch I did—scanned and sent via email to Jeanne Heyerly, who shepherded the entire project.

And here’s the final product! I love the smaller triangles that they added!

I will add a description of the symbols in the left-hand corner which will say: “Les trois cotés des triangles représentent à la fois la Trinité et les trois communautés mennonites de la RD Congo. Les triangles “volant” vers le cercle symbolisent les Mennonites Congolais et Nord Américains qui se déplacent pour se réunir et sont intégrés dans le cercle, symbole d’unité. La croix est notre centre, au coeur de notre unité.

Fait par les mamans de la paroisse Silverwood Mennonite à Goshen, Indiana sous les auspices de Congo Cloth Connection.”  (translated by Nancy Meyers)

And in English: “For the triangles: the three sides of the triangles represent both the Trinity and the three Mennonite “conferences/groups” in the DR Congo. The triangles “flying” toward the circle symbolize the Congolese and North American Mennonites traveling to meet and are integrated into the circle, the symbol of unity. And the cross, of course, is at the heart of our unity, our center.

The women of Silverwood Mennonite in Goshen, Indiana on behalf of Congo Cloth Connection”

And here are the “Mamans de la paroisse Silverwood Mennonite Church”:

My request of you: please pray for me or sending positive energy my way to remember to breathe in the next ten days, to do what needs to be done and to let go of what doesn’t get done, and for inner soul preparation, not just external preparation.

Thanks much!

“Every Stitch a Prayer”–Congo Cloth Connection, part two

The BOMEN Sewing Training Center and Workshop

Monique Bapa, who started her training at Bomen a few months ago, is working with the new CCC Sewing Machine.

Monique Bapa, who started her training at Bomen a few months ago, is working with the new CCC Sewing Machine.

 

Nancy, Nina, and I will be hosted by the Bondeko Mennonite Church in the Masina area of Kinshasa, DR Congo, during most of our visit in May. We will be staying in African homes for nine of our days and did I mention that French is the language of DR Congo? Did I mention that I know very little French?!

 

We will be meeting with Congolese women theologians and the organizers of the BOMEN Sewing Training Center and Workshop. BOMEN is a project of the Bondeko Mennonite Church to train women heads of households, teenage mothers, and unemployed young women in sewing, dressmaking, and tailoring. It is a microfinance training program but at this point, only a small number of women have participated because they only have two sewing machines are available.

BOMEN seeks help to buy additional sewing machines, tables and chairs, supplies, and rent for a larger building for the center. The leaders hope to train a hundred women in basic sewing skills for an 18-month program. BOMEN will help the trainees find employment and establish a production workshop to start young women in their careers.

Some Congo Cloth Connection (CCC) funds have already purchased on industrial strength sewing machine and sewing supplies. I will be taking additional supplies and sewing notions with me for the sewing center. Also, CCC funds will be used to purchase two long work tables and other supplies for the workshop in Kinshasa where the women will make clothes to sell. The profits from these sales will purchase additional sewing and embroidery machines for other women’s group in other parts of the DR Congo.

 

Marie-Jeanne, the organizer of the BOMEN sewing center

I see some of my “call” for this trip is to sew alongside the women, give ideas for additional sewing projects, and note the additional specific needs of the sewing center. Perhaps, though, on a deeper level, my call is to bear witness to the stories I might hear from the women, especially those who have moved from the dangerous eastern part of Congo to the capital of Kinshasa. I also will carry with me the spirits of my grandmother Lois and great-grandmother Daisy, both seamstresses, who would have enthusiastically supported this trip.

“Every Stitch a Prayer” Congo Cloth Connection–Part One

Africa was not on my horizon for 2012. Although I’ve supported Nigerian women through Women for Women, I simply didn’t think much about Africa.

In late January, while talking with my friend Nina Lanctot, she mentioned her upcoming spring trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Then, she mentioned that one of the women—a sewer—couldn’t go on the trip: would I be interested?

I tried to be cool, calm, and collected while asking for some details and told her that I need to talk with Kevin, pray about this, and figure out some work details. I asked for a few days. I called her back the next day and told her, “I’m in!!”

I leave for Kinshasa, Congo with Nina and Nancy Myers on April 30 and return May 16. We are going as part of the “Every Stitch a Prayer”—Congo Cloth Connection.

“Every Stitch a Prayer” began when Christine Nofsinger visited the DR of Congo in 2009 and fell in love with the cloth of Congo. As a quilter, Chris immediately imagined a world of projects with the Congolese fabric. When she returned to the U.S. she wondered how she could be part of God’s work in Congo. The complexity of beauty and suffering were hard to sort out and as she used Congo cloth for quilts, she began to pray.

When Chris returned from the Congo in 2009 she had three suitcases jammed full of cloth. Now when the MCC country representatives, Tim and Suzanne Lind, or others with Congo connections travel, they also return with yards of cloth. There is no other way to get cloth to North America as there is no postal or delivery service between the Congo and U.S.  The fabric is sold and money sent back to the Congo. Quilts have been made and auctioned off with the funds going back to the Congo to support a sewing training center in Kinshasa. (More about the sewing center to come!).

Nina, Nancy, and I will be visiting with the Mennonite Church groups based in Kinshasa. Nina will be preaching the two Sundays we will be there and Nancy will be videotaping and conducting interviews with the Congolese people. I will be purchasing fabric to sell in the US and meeting with the women at the sewing center.

I am very excited about this adventure and am in awe how this opportunity has unfolded for me!

Creating quilts for children

“Our praying and creating hands become God’s resource as we determine how to embody what we are experiencing through the cloth.”
—Susan Towner-Larsen
and Barbara Brewer Davis,
With Sacred Threads: Quilting
and the Spiritual Life
, p. 98

 

Last summer a dear friend asked me to make quilts for her two daughters using the baby clothes she had saved. She handed over two large plastic containers filled with sweet baby dresses, cute onesies, and charming knitted caps. As I sorted through the bins I wondered what I could do with these clothes: how can I make a quilt for each of the girls?

I decided to cut up the adorable clothes into 2.5” squares. I first traced squares on the various clothes then cut them out using scissors rather than my favorite cutting tool, a rotary cutter.

As I worked with these clothes I remembered each girl as a baby. I met each girl shortly after they were born and leaning over the hospital bassinet to stroke their heads and whisper a blessing: “We are so glad you are here. We’ve been waiting a long time for you and here you are! We are so happy!  You ____, are beloved and blessed child of God.”  (I try to whisper this each time I meet a new baby. It’s an idea I got from my friend Susan who is a labor and delivery nurse).

And during my work recalled how the girls have grown from babies to elementary school children, each with her own distinct personality. I also held the entire family in my heart, grateful four our friendship and the joy I experience being with them.

As I assembled the quilts I imagined how the girls might use them—reading books under the quilts, snuggled under them in the winter, and, maybe, if the quilts are still in shape, taking the quilts with them to college.

I like to hand-sew the bindings as a final way of handling the quilt and praying that the recipients will experience God’s loving embrace when they are using the quilt. My hope is that my loving energy will be transferred onto the quilt and love will be felt by the quilt owner.

One of the quilts is pictured above–here’s the other one. I made three columns of three squares of those baby clothes but never did incorporate those charming knitted caps! When my friend came to pick the quilts up she burst into tears when she saw them.  I took it as a sign that she liked them.

Recently, my friend Sarah posted a picture on Facebook of her husband and their two children reading together with a quilt over them. It was a quilt I made when Sarah was pregnant with her first child and it was a joy to sew together. I prayed for Sarah and her husband Matt as I sewed the squares together—I prayed for a healthy pregnancy, a safe delivery for Sarah, and for wisdom for both of them as new parents. I knew Sarah and Matt well as I officiated their wedding and worked with them in premarital counseling. And because of this experience I could tenderly carry them in my as I sewed.

Matthew, Aaron and Joan under quilt. Photo by Sarah, 12/2011

When I contacted Sarah for permission to use the photo she said her son continues to sleep with the quilt and used it a lot. This makes me happy!

As I write this, the fabric for my two-year-old niece is in the washing machine. I hope to begin working on the quilt this week and finish it before my visit to California in early March.

“Playing with cloth to birth a new design can be an act of prayer. When one is aware that the Divine is guiding the process of creation at every step, there is a profound sense of a partnership, a Guiding Hand, and a readiness to receive a magnificent message from the Holy Other. Our praying and creating hands become God’s resource as we determine how to embody what we are experience though the cloth patches.”–ibid