Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Conundrum of Stitches versus Fabric

I've long since given up on formal New Year's resolutions, but each year I do try to affirm a few "ways of living" to keep me sane and forward thinking. This year I have tried to focus on knowing when to live in the moment, while at the same time, recognizing when it’s important to take in the big picture. 

I recently read my favorite author's newest book - Anne Lamott's, “Stitches.” Not only does she write beautifully, but she also has an ability to look at life with humor, humility and perspective that resonate with me.

Anne integrates the analogy of stitches throughout the book by suggesting you can miss the magic of the stitches in daily life if you are always looking at "the whole shebang," as she puts it. You can miss the beauty of the colors, shapes and imperfections of the stitches if you are always just looking at the design of the whole fabric.

But I like taking that comparison a little further to try and balance focusing on the stitches of life with appreciating the complexities of the woven fabric. 

Looking at individual stitches requires a still mind to focus on what's right in front of you. Enjoy the delicate intricacies of the circumstances...follow the music, really digest the words you are reading, listen to the sermon, take pleasure in the company around you, be grateful for the beauty of your surroundings. 

Appreciating these individual stitches brings peace in a chaotic world. It calms the mind and body to focus on the single goal of living in the moment….often when everything else around you is in chaos.

On the other hand, concentrating on the fabric that is held together by the stitches meets a completely different big picture need and requires a whole different focus and discipline. Looking at the fabric gives us the joy beyond the moment to see how we can contribute to a bigger world. If you think of yourself as a stitch in the fabric, you can see how your beauty, imperfections and individuality join with others to make the unique piece of cloth.

If we spend all of our days in “the moment” stitches, we could easily to fall into a “me-focused” universe that fails to recognize the challenges that life requires of us. Gazing only at the stitches during a crisis can make you feel hopeless thinking there is no way out; there are too many details to attend to; tomorrow can't possibly be any better. Changing to fabric focus can help in this scenario.

One of those “fabric” flashes hit me during a health crisis with my dad when I realized we had to look beyond that ICU crisis moment and take the wide angle view that there are other possibilities (he will be OK ) beyond the immediate dire situation. There are solutions we may not see by only living in the moment and only staring at the stitches.

But defaulting to the fabric while trying to take in a moment of peace can keep you from enjoying the beauty of your immediate surroundings. 

While sitting around a fire with friends out in the country on New Year’s Day wanting to just enjoy the moment, I had to tighten my lens to look at the stitches of enjoying the grace of good friends and good food around me. I found peace by pulling myself away from the big picture fabric that that was suffocating me thinking of the mess in my house along with work and daily life responsibilities that would kick back after this restful holiday. 

I have learned a great deal about this “stitches versus fabric” conundrum from a college friend, Keleigh. Her 10-year-old daughter is fighting cancer for the second time. Somehow Keleigh finds time between this huge challenge of caring for a Downs Syndrome child with cancer, nurturing her other five kids, tending a marriage and holding together a household to keep a Caringbridge journal of their journey. I am constantly inspired by her faith and ability to know how to move between stitches and fabric. 

Over Christmas, Keleigh wrote so beautifully on her Caringbridge site about the joy of living in the moment with her 8-year-old youngest daughter. They were able to slip out of the hospital and visit the American girl store while her oldest daughter was at the hospital to stay with her ailing middle daughter during a chemo treatment. 

When reading Keleigh’s post, I could just feel her wrapped up in the joy of enjoying the stitches with the youngest daughter knowing the oldest daughter had the fabric covered for the moment. 

Great lesson learned.