Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Pattern

I have always loved geometric patterns, especially those repeating kinds that almost seem to create an optical illusion. I remember spending hours coloring in these really cool coloring books my grammy gave me filled with those kinds of patterns. I loved doing that.

When I was still quite young, my mom taught me how to cross stitch. My first "piece" was very simple, only about 20 stitches, but she taught me how to read a pattern and count out the stitches on the fabric and how to read the pattern for color and stitch type. At age seven, I had completed several very basic pieces.

As a young child I also remember watching the ladies from my grammy's church come together over an elaborate piece quilt. Together, they put all these little shapes together to create an elaborate design. And I remember watching my mother stitch on a white-on-white baby quilt to create a picture on an otherwise blank piece of cotton.

The thing about patterns is that they take separate things and entities that mean nothing alone and put them together in a harmony that creates something larger and more complex (and often more beautiful and enjoyable) than any of the individual pieces. Patterns often teach us how to "read" them also, making further sense of the colors and shapes involved. Some patterns are simple, much like my first cross stitch piece. Other patterns, like the log cabin piece quilts I saw, were complicated and required forethought and skill to put together in a way that made sense.

Life is really not much different. We start with a simple pattern with very simple "stitches" and color "schemes". As children we learn from a small environment, normally our parents, how certain things go together. These are often simple things like saying "Please" and "Thank you" when making requests. There are few variables, at first, and we see them happen repeatedly, and we are urged even more repeatedly to follow that pattern.

As we age, the color scheme is broadened, more stitches are learned and used, and the overall complexity of the pattern is greater. We suddenly are in positions where we have to "fill in" the pattern from past experience. At times, we aren't sure what should go next and we are left to simply sink or swim on our own. Sometimes we have enough history with a particular pattern to make a fairly reasonable guess as to how we should respond. Sometimes we have nothing to help us. And sometimes, we just ignore it all and do what "feels" best to us.

But where I've found that life is not a simple matter of patterns is that it appears too many times in my own life, someone has grabbed the piece I was working on and replaced it with a new piece, sometimes even a new medium to create on and with. For instance, as I was having my children, I woke to a child who wasn't "perfect". His pattern had a flaw, and as I was perfecting the motherhood thing, I was thrown off kilter. Everything I thought I knew, everything I thought I could do was yanked out of my hands. Instead, I was given a new pattern, one with foreign names and colors and a totally different medium. My life took a totally different course because of the change.

Similarly, when my marriage failed, I realized that I didn't have a good pattern to work from at all. The pattern that I held in my hands was loosely planned and devised and highly inadequate for creating a piece that reflected anything of beauty. Instead it represented disjointed stitches in conflicting color schemes that played themselves out in a pattern of randomness that made little sense to anyone. Even as I realized how poor that pattern was, I clung to it because it was all I knew. But that pattern, too, was ripped from my hands.

In an attempt to create something better from what was left afterward, I attempted to create a new pattern for my life and for my children. For perhaps the first time in my life, I truly realized how much I needed someone or something bigger to guide my pattern. I sought God to make something useful out of the bits and pieces of the patterns I had been working on and having ripped from my hands all along the road of my life. I gave Him the control to make the stitches here and there, to change colors when needed, even when I couldn't see any sort of "real" pattern.

Over a period of five years, I faced parenting three children without a spouse. But God gave me angels to help out. He placed boundaries to keep me from becoming reckless with fatigue or being overwhelmed. He placed me in a church home that was supportive, even if not perfect. In time, He yanked my preconceived notions of the pattern He was creating for me. Time after time, He has changed the pattern, often to my own frustration. But I have attempted to be faithful, even when it has required me to give up the things I held most dear (i.e. things besides Him). Sometimes the "sacrifice" of what I wanted was painful and brought me to tears. Other times, it has left me in disbelief. Over all, it has left me totally and overwhelmingly blessed beyond what I deserve.

I still can't see the final "pattern" of my life. I can look back at squares that make no sense on their own, nor with the squares around them. But what gives me hope, what keeps me pressing on is the knowledge that one day I will stand beside the Creator and look back on the pattern, and I will know that it is beautiful because of the "Artist" who has created it.

"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."
--Jeremiah 29.11 (NLT)

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