“Thirsting for Righteousness”

Thirsting for Righteousness

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
—Matthew 5:6

As far back as I can remember, I have done my thinking first in weight and image, in spatial impression and juxtaposition, in line and shade, and finally—at the very very last—in words. I can’t help it; it’s how my brain fires. (You can imagine what this does to having a conversation.)

I tell you this because this is how the images for each blanket in this series on the Beatitudes have come to me. I’m not researching the theme first, seeing what Bible scholars say about what Jesus meant, although I think that’s important. Instead, I imagine what might have come to me if I had been sitting on that hillside, listening to those words being spoken twenty centuries ago.

Last month I posted “Blessed are the Meek.” Now here is “Thirsting for Righteousness.”

The word righteousness in present-day usage can carry some negative stuff: a whiff of moral piety, a haughtiness, an outward appearance of being upright. But when I hear Jesus’ statement afresh, I imagine something different: a longing for right-ness, justice, fairness, deep caring, and the making of choices for the good of many, rather than the good of one. I think of humility, not pride.

Of course I don’t imagine those things in WORDS though! It was hard work to transform that last paragraph into verbal units for you!

Now I’ll forge ahead toward more words to attempt to convey how this blanket came to be.

The muted colors of the background are like daily life—lovely and comfortable, but not brilliant. In my mind, this background encompasses personal life, community life, life in our world. There are a few spots that stand out as highlights, but they’re still relatively subdued.

But then: those day lilies! When I look at them I want to cry. It’s that longing rising up—for justice, for caring, for goodness. The plant is not big, nor is it loud, but it stands in sharp contrast to what’s around it. It isn’t there simply due a will to do good or spread beauty; it’s there because of where its roots are.

The lily plant is rooted in a strip of blue, a nod to the prophet Jeremiah’s insight: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

I’m fairly certain the day lilies appeared in my head because of something Jesus said just upon the heels of his beatitudes. He addressed the topic of anxiety. (Apparently it’s not just a modern malady.) He pointed to the lilies in the fields near where his listeners sat, and noted that if God dressed the short-lived lilies so beautifully, he would care MUCH more fully for those who trust him (Matthew 6: 25-34).

So. Righteousness? True righteousness? I’m not capable on my own. But with my roots in the right place, amazing things can become possible.


“Thirsting for Righteousness”  (62″ x 76″)

“The Light Changes Everything”

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Last year one of my dear collectors asked me to make a special blanket for her and her husband, to denote a time of renewal and restoration in their marriage. She said, “No hurry, but whenever you can. And I would love for it to be in cream-colored wool, light, like a breath of fresh air.”

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I had made a personal commitment to reserve the first half of 2016 for sewing inventory for the juried Chicago-area show, Art in the Barn. I was willing to take orders for custom work, but I let people know I wouldn’t be starting on their things for a few months. Although this customer had to sit tight for a bit, I mentally started working on her blanket right away.

What I actually did was to simultaneously make two matching blanket “bases” (the background without appliqués), one for the show and one for my client. I then set aside her base until later.

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What a pleasure! The two blankets took similar form in my head, both with springtime trees to depict new life and new beginnings and most certainly the beauty, stability, and longevity of a tree. (You can see the first one, “Hope,” here.) Today I’m introducing the second one, “The Light Changes Everything”—so named because the blanket gave me a pointed object lesson in the practical truth of that statement!

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There were particulars I wanted to express in this project. I wanted to represent a meeting of two people in this one tree. I wanted there to be both masculine and feminine aspects to it. I wanted to have even the background alluding to the powerful hope of transformation.

You can see them when you look for them: The two main branches, leaning toward each other at points. The brown and pink fabrics mingled in the trunk and branches. The transition of background hues from darker on the left to lighter on the right.

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And then! I searched and sampled, looking for a distinct green for the final scattering of leaves. Many of the greens I tested were too bright, too outspoken. I wanted the trunk and branches, not the leaves, to be the main thing. Ahhh, I finally found it. I quickly cut, laid out, and stitched all the leaves on. The color mix resonated perfectly!—in the daytime. But when evening fell, the leaves nearly disappeared against the darker background wools. I was dismayed that I had not paused for a day, as I often do, to live with the design before stitching things down.

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“WOW, the light changes EVERYTHING,” I said gloomily to myself. And suddenly I thought about what a really wonderful thing it is that light does change everything.

Let’s start with the sunlight itself, as this Southern-Californian-turned-Midwesterner frequently watches winter weather forecasts to find the next upcoming sunny day. That’s for mood management :). And there’s my aforementioned practical need for sunlight in order to see how fabric colors interact with each other. Honestly, do we not see sunlight’s breathtaking effects everywhere: on mother nature, on us, on the beauty around us? We need it for our very lives.

On a deeper level, there’s the impact of letting light into life’s dark places in order to begin healing. I have a friend who grasps an imaginary flashlight and cries, “Shine the light!”—a challenge to us all to undermine the painful hold of darkness over things often too shameful to talk about.

Finally but most aptly, there’s Jesus, the light of the world (John 8:12). This couple, for whom I made the blanket, leaned in to Him to turn around an intractable situation in their marriage.

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That, of course, is when I got the title for this blanket. A solution to my disappearing leaves came soon after. I threaded some moss-green wool yarn onto a large darning needle and embroidered a defining edge on the leaves so they could hold their own, both day and night.

For this special couple, may this blanket and the meaning that accidentally / serendipitously got sewn into it be a regular reminder of the strength and power of the Light. With much love…

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“The Light Changes Everything”
(76″ x 64″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

A very good gift

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

–John 10.10

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 Photo: Christian Lambert Photography on Flickr via Creative Commons

Neither my husband nor I speaks the language of gifts fluently. For each of us, there are other things that rank higher in importance, and that’s where we spend our energies. But my husband has a quality that simply amazes me: if you need something, he will drop just about anything in order to figure out a way to get that something done. I regularly see him do this for others, but this year he did something for me that was so impractical and so loving and so undeserved, I still get teary thinking about it.

The story actually begins, and not in a good way, on my birthday in February of 2013. We had gone out for a lovely birthday dinner and were on our way home when my car was rear-ended at a stoplight. It was a pretty big BUMP but we weren’t hurt and neither was the other driver, so the officer sent us all on our way, grateful, to home.

But then we learned that my beloved car, an 11-year-old previously-owned Mazda Tribute with a manual transmission, had been badly knocked awry and was declared totalled. Time to go car shopping.

That prospect might cause YOU joy and elation, but I wasn’t feelin’ it: we weren’t going to get much insurance money, so in addition to losing a car I was very fond of, we would be making a new financial investment, whether we bought new or used.

Now, in our 30-plus years of marriage, we have always bought used. (You are likely not surprised by that fact! This very blog is based on a fundamental recycling theme!) But this time we compared the options and, with a popular used car market driving up prices, my husband said (after countless hours of test drives with a disheartened wife), “Honey, I would just love to do this for you,” and we brought home a beautiful new white and shiny small SUV. I felt pretty stunned to be the recipient of this lovely gift.

The end.

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Photo: Angelina Vukel on Flickr via Creative Commons

Oh, wait; that is not the end. Honestly, that car was a LOVELY gift, but it did not turn out to be the gift in this story.

I drove that car for over a year but somehow never felt attached to it. It was beautiful and comfortable…but not really my style. And I felt that most acutely when I, the check-writer for the two of us, paid its monthly car payment. It took me a long time to tell my kind husband this truth.

We talked about trading my car in, but I didn’t want to go through the hassle, I hated that we’d lose money on it, etc., etc., etc. But he wouldn’t give up that easily. We’d done so much car-shopping and test-driving that he knew what I liked and soon he had some great used cars picked out — relatively late models with low mileage and lower price tags than my shiny new vehicle had. His research brought to my attention a car I hadn’t taken notice of before — as Hyundai had stopped making them after 2012: the Elantra Touring. I fell in love with all the practical qualities of that car: its low profile, good fuel economy, and great cargo space.

And then that charming guy of mine showed me one with a manual transmission. My heart leapt within me. I hadn’t realized how much I missed the delight of driving a stick shift.

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Photo: Monika & Manfred on Flickr via Creative Commons

You know how I said these cars were no longer made? And how I liked it a lot? Apparently many other car owners feel the same because this vehicle is not too common in the used market. Local ones were either weirdly bright colors (my apologies to the owners of those colors — I’m happy that variety can be the spice of your life!) or in wrecky shape. Did my husband try to talk me out of this car? No, his brain went into another dimension and — I’m telling the truth — this is what happened:

One Thursday afternoon, my husband calls me at work and casually says, “I have a verbal agreement with a dealer in Massachusetts for a beautiful black Touring with a manual transmission and just 18,000 miles on it. CarMax has offered a good price for your current car. So can I ask for your help when you get home from work? We’ll go to CarMax and trade in your car, and then you can drop me off at Chicago O’Hare to catch an evening flight to Boston Logan, and then I’ll take a 3-hour bus ride to Dartmouth…”

[To understand this picture fully, you need to know how much I would never do this, this thing so quixotic, so complicated, so uncalled-for and — honestly — so crazy. Me? I’m the one who efficiently lines up all my errands like a UPS driver, ticking my way through them with right-hand turns, wasting neither time nor money, and getting home to cook a sensible dinner. I attribute this to my German and Scottish ancestors. Why should anyone put everything on hold and go to all this outlandish trouble for a CAR??]

Well, he pulled it off with barely a hitch: from trade-in to flight to bus-ride to dealing with the car salesman to working out a legal way to drive home without proper plates in this out-of-state purchase to driving over 1000 miles back to northern Illinois. And I never caught a single note of stress in his voice when we talked by phone.

On Saturday evening, my tired husband pulled into our driveway with a smile on his face and one of the most thoughtful, fun gifts I have ever received.

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I tell you this story because to me it is a tender glimpse of the way God gives gifts — beyond my imagination, always undeserved, with details only he could orchestrate, and with a care-free generosity I cannot wrap my care-full mind around. This in fact is the story of Christmas and the gospel, beginning with the unusual birth of the baby Jesus — who came that we might have life and have it abundantly.

The unanticipated joy God the Father throws in is a bonus.

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A Christmas message that involves a sheep

Yesterday our pastor re-told the story of Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem and preparing for their baby’s birth. His sermon’s point was that Christmas can have a different message for different people at different times in their lives.

For instance, papa Joseph (below, from my Catholic-influenced, Mexican-made nativity set) was confused about Mary getting pregnant by who-in-the-world-knew who?! (Matthew 1.18-25.) But an angel met Joseph in a dream and told him that Mary’s conception was caused by the Holy Spirit and that he ought to marry her in spite of how things looked. Joseph hung in there and was patient.

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Then we have Mary (looking for all the world like a Catholic schoolgirl, below). She was initially frightened and uncertain about what was happening and what would happen in the future. (Luke 1.26-38.) But she too was calmed by a visiting angel and, after hearing how God desired to have her be the mom of Jesus, she responded willingly. She sat still before the Lord and was able to accept this ethereal mystery. Mary accepted the inexplicable and pondered it in her heart.

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The angels kept busy. Next stop: shepherds (in worn choir robes, below). On the night Jesus was born, nearby shepherds were going about their everyday, ordinary shepherding routine, staying alert, watching for anything unusual in order to keep their animal charges safe. (Luke 2.8-18.) Talk about unusual! First one and then a multitude of angels came to herald this spectacular event of the Savior’s birth. What did those ordinary, alert, observant shepherds do? They responded! They went.

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The wise men, although not actually present that night, played a part in this story. (Does my guy not look like he stopped at the monastery barber en route?) Like the shepherds, they too were watching. They noted an amazing, significant star in the sky and packed up and followed it from a very distant land. They carefully chose gifts to bring to the Christ child they would eventually meet. These men made a concerted and wholehearted effort to seek God. (Matthew 2.1-12.)

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Our pastor also talked about the innkeeper (“Pay attention because God is near!”) and about Anna and Simeon (“Don’t give up, even when you’ve been waiting a long, long time. God’s time and economy is different from the world’s!”).

But I found that I have one more character to add — a sheep, which certainly tagged along with the shepherds. This morning, while I was reading in the Psalms, my passage for the day included this:

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments (Psalm 119.176).

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Do I have to admit how often this is me? It’s often. I get off-track, feel lost and astray (and wander in dusty fields, above :) ). But how sweet the words, “seek your servant” — for that is what God does when we ask. I do not have to find my own way back; I only have to cry for help. What a Savior.

A happy, blessed Christmas to you all!

It’s been a delightful year for The Green Sheep, thanks to all of you!  I so appreciate your support as you read the blog and pass the link on to others.  Thank you!

And now I simply want to wish you all a Christmas full of WONDER, of HOPE, and of JOY— as we celebrate the day of Jesus’ birth on Earth.  Merry, merry Christmas!

[Photo credit: Nigel Roddis/Reuters — Snow-covered sheep in Helperby, England]

 

Twin Lambs

Well, they’re not really lamb twins — they’re baby girl twins, and they are due to join Mom, Dad, and a big brother and sister in November.

But recently, Big Brother told his mom that these babies are Jesus’ little lambs.  I think that’s how the theme started for the nursery.

I was able to have two blankets ready for Susan’s (the expectant mom) baby shower.  In fact, several friends brought lamb-themed things.  That room will be a welcome place for these sweet babies, and a constant reminder of God’s loving care.

I wrote this Bible verse in the card I took to the shower  —

“He tends his flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;

he gently leads those that have young.”  (Isaiah 40.11)

The last line of that passage has some comforting words for PARENTS  —  “He gently leads those that have young.”  Another friend at the shower commented, “It’d be nice if sometimes He would lead us more loudly and with clearer direction!”  Parenting is a challenge :).

[On a side note: Susan has been a huge encourager to me with The Green Sheep.  In fact, it was her request when she ordered a baby blanket for a friend last year that started me adding appliqués to blankets….

….She originally requested a turquoise-and-brown theme to match her friend’s nursery.  After I finished that, Susan asked, “Can you add a picture to it?”  That blanket became “A Happy Little Tune.”]

We all love you and wish you and your growing family well, Susan!

“Jesus’ Little Lambs”  (each is 35″ x 37″)

These blankets have already gone to a good home.

Easter and the Good Shepherd

Happy Easter to each of you!  In our family, we greet each other Easter morning with: “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  I wish I could share my fresh-baked hot cross buns with you for breakfast. (Except — oops — they are bare, as I forgot to slice the crosses on the top of this batch.)

Easter and Good Friday and The Green Sheep have all made me think about the references to sheep in the Bible.  There are many.  For the past 8 months, I’ve been studying the book of Isaiah with a great group of women — a tremendous study.  There’s lots about sheep there, a bit of which I shared in my Good Friday post.

(Photo by mehmetgoren)

Last year we studied the book of John, another wildly wonderful book.  I remembered some talk about shepherds there, so I went back to find it.  In chapter 10, Jesus used some very familiar “people in the neighborhood” (a la Sesame Street, Hebrew style) to teach something about himself.  He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10.11).

(Photo by Jim Richardson)

This reminds me of the 23rd psalm, where David describes the day-to-day shepherding care he received from the Lord.  (And I think it’s cool that David wrote from what he knew, as he was a shepherd before becoming king.)  “The Lord is my shepherd,” he wrote, “I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake”  (Psalm 23.1-3).

So how does this tie to Easter?  Well, Jesus did an extraordinary thing in laying down his life to conquer sin (Good Friday) and then in rising to conquer death (Easter).   Today he LIVES as a guiding, care-taking, restoring shepherd…to those lost sheep like me who call on him.

Good Friday and Straying Sheep

Last year, while visiting a church, my husband and I saw this unusual cross.  It has nails pounded into it to write out an incredible passage from Isaiah.  It’s about Jesus.

It says:  “He was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,

and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

each of us has turned to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”  –Isaiah 53.5-6.

(Photo by Daniele Sartori)

So that’s what happened on “Good Friday.”  I am one of those straying sheep and am so grateful that Jesus took the cost of my sin upon himself.  Seriously.  By his wounds I have been healed.  It’s more than I can comprehend and yet I am so thankful!

The sheep at the stable

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’” (Luke 2.8-11).

This week, with our Christmas decorations still up, I’ve found myself thinking about the sheep in our nativity set.  I’ve thought how very “like God” it was of God to include disrespected shepherds and their not-particularly-smart sheep in His advent here on this planet.  The shepherds were among the first to learn that something wondrous was happening in a Bethlehem stable, and they came (with their sheep traipsing along) to see a newborn whose birth had been foretold in ancient scriptures:  “For to us a child is born.…and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9.6).

Sheep are mentioned quite a lot in the Bible.  Most memorably, people are compared to sheep—lost if without their shepherd, sometimes wandering and astray.  When he grew up, Jesus called Himself the good shepherd.  When I see that little porcelain lamb peering over the manger’s edge at baby Jesus,  this is what I think:  Like that lamb, I would be lost without my shepherd,  Jesus.  What a perfect object lesson God provided when He invited the sheep to the stable.