Today’s edition will be a little different. It’s not unusual for most people, especially Christians, to look for meaning when challenging events happen to them. We want to come away with some potentially positive outcome to the painful experiences we endure, and that’s a good thing. After all, God did include the book of Job, and all kinds of trials that took place in a variety of wilderness settings over the years. He didn’t do that to depress us. He allowed those experiences and then wrote about them in order to instruct and prepare us. Paul expressed the idea concisely when he said:
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. (Romans 15:3–4 NKJV)
We understand lessons offered in negative experiences, and a lot of us tend to consider our trials to be courses in learning to be patient when our world is falling apart. When we’ve been through a spiritual test, we look for the takeaways that God intended for us to glean. That’s a natural reaction in the aftermath of tough days, but what about those days that are just the opposite?
Another Side to the Coin ~
Good things happen, too, and there are lessons to be learned in those times as well. Sometimes, a refreshing oasis unexpectedly appears in the midst of a wilderness we’re trudging through. Sometimes when we feel depleted and weak, nourishing “manna from heaven” appears out of nowhere. Multitudes thirsting for hope in barren places with no hint of moisture have watched their dire expectations vanish as water gushes out of dry, flinty rock. He isn’t just the God who walks with us through the bad times. He’s the God who sometimes invades those bad times with good things we never expected, and there are valuable lessons to be learned there as well.
I was reminded of that again on a very personal level earlier this week and felt compelled to share it. It began with an announcement from my daughter who lives in Ohio that she was sending me a gift. It would arrive in a couple of days or so, but I was not to open it until we could connect on Facetime. The only motivation she revealed was that she knew I’d been having some tough days physically, and she wanted to send me a little something to brighten my day.
Mystery Solved ~
After some focused pondering about what it could be, I concluded it had to be something about dogs. Since she has several and we have none, she teases me about my canine relationship deficiencies. “Ahah!” I thought, “She’s sending me some kind of toy dog.” Convinced that a mechanical or stuffed dog was heading my way, I considered the mystery solved and hardly noticed the passing of time until the notice came that my artificial “pooch” was finally resting on the front porch.
When all of us were online and able to see and hear each other clearly, we set out to open the box. Let me say up front that it was not a stuffed dog, but before continuing, I need to turn some pages to reach back in my life and provide some background.
My grandparents were more like my parents in my early years, and I have treasured that relationship throughout my life. My grandmother, “Ma,” as we called her, was one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known. The little family farm where we lived in those days had electricity but no running water unless you ran out to the well to get it. We had a refrigerator that would look tiny by today’s standards, and a wood burning cook stove was all she had to prepare meals on. Ma worked from before daybreak in the morning until well into the night and had no days “off”. She was a living demonstration of what faith, perseverance, ingenuity, and dedication meant. She transitioned effortlessly from a parent to a farm laborer to a skilled craftsman to a household manager. She produced a lot in her life, but didn’t leave a lot of material possessions behind when God called her home.
An Unexpected Discovery ~
One of my favorite cousins, who is also one of her granddaughters, came to visit last summer and during that trip, she revealed a recent discovery. She had come across some worn and fragile pieces of cloth that our grandmother had cut out and sewn together as the first stages of making a quilt. Another family member had found them and offered them to my cousin because of her interest in quilting. She had been able to use some of the pieces in creating a project or two, but was struggling with what she should do with the remaining pieces. When I heard that, I had a suggestion.
Unknown to my cousin at the time, my daughter had also developed a love for quilting and had proven to be quite creative and prolific in producing quilted items. I suggested that they connect and collaborate about the possibilities. Eventually, they decided that my daughter would be the one to try to do something with Ma’s leftovers. The pieces were old and fragile and the shapes she had sewn together didn’t suggest any obvious way to apply them. Everyone agreed that the pieces were special, but inspiration about what to do with them was hard to find. It became apparent that if anything ever materialized, it would probably be a long time coming. But for me, the fact that these little scraps of my grandmother’s life had survived was a special blessing even if nothing was ever done with them. (So you probably know by now where this is going, right?)
The Gift Arrives (not a Toy Dog!) ~
Going back to our story . . . We opened the box that had arrived and slowly pulled the contents out. As some of the colors emerged, I recognized those quilt pieces that Ma had sewn. They were no longer a random bunch of scraps. They adorned what was for me more than a quilt. It had become a breathtaking piece of historical art–a beautiful collection of life’s insignificant leftovers, stitched together to form a priceless legacy of love.
My throat tightened as I looked at the hand-stitching Ma had done with her arthritic little hands. We unfolded the large, throw-sized quilt, and when I saw what those scraps had been transformed into, I was speechless. In that moment, all the frustration, disappointment, and pain that I had been fighting for days instantly melted away. I was holding in my hands something at least partially created by hands that had cared for my wounds, smacked my legs when I challenged her, and then wiped away my tears. Those hands that taught me how to milk a cow, string beans, and dig potatoes had pulled those threads through that fabric. Hands that did that delicate work with needles and thread also showed me how to feed the chickens, gather eggs, and slop the hogs. A few minutes of holding that quilt and thinking about the life she lived and the values she demonstrated did something incredible. It unleashed memories of so many good things she did. There was enough good still lingering in the leftovers of her life to wipe out uncounted hours of bad thoughts, anxiety, fear, and negative expectations. It reminded me of a simple but profoundly powerful admonition God delivered by the Apostle Paul. He said:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21 NKJV)
Living Definitions Required ~
The good that overcomes evil is not just a term defined by what we say. Good is not a church we belong to, a position we hold, or a party we agree with. Good comes to life in faithful obedience to the Word of God. Good gains its strength in the sacrifices we make to help others. My grandma’s life was hard, but it was deeply and powerfully good. She spent her life doing things for those in need, feeding the hungry, bandaging the wounded, lifting up the fallen, and teaching the uninformed. She may not have realized it, but she waged a war against evil all her life.
As I held the remnants of Ma’s life in the quilt she never got to finish . . . the one that three generations later, my own daughter’s heart was moved to complete, I could feel the power of the good she scattered everywhere she went. May God help us to remember that the good we do lives on. The lives it touches multiply even after we’re gone, and evil will always die in its presence.
(The floral blooms were my grandmother’s hand-stitched work. The creative design supporting and surrounding them to pull it all together into this legacy piece was done by my daughter, Katie.)
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
“Holding that quilt & thinking about the values Ma demonstrated unleashed memories of so many good things. Enough good still lingered in the leftovers of Ma’s life to wipe out uncounted hours of anxiety, fear, and negative expectations.” @Gallagher’s Pen (Click here to Tweet)
“The good that overcomes evil is not just a term defined by what we say. Good is not a church we belong to, a position we hold, or a party we agree with. Good comes to life in faithful obedience to the Word of God.” @Gallagher’s Pen (Click here to Tweet)
“Good gains its strength in the sacrifices we make to help others. Ma’s life was hard, but deeply and powerfully good. She spent her life doing things for those in need, feeding the hungry, bandaging the wounded, lifting up the fallen. ” @Gallagher’s Pen (Click here to Tweet)
“May God help us to remember that the good we do lives on. The lives it touches multiply even after we’re gone, and evil will always die in its presence. (Romans 12:21)” @Gallagher’s Pen (Click here to Tweet)
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© 2021 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
I read this 10 minutes ago, but it’s difficult to write when tears are flowing. Oh, they’re not sad tears my friend, but tears of joy that came from the telling of this story. I thought of the days of dropping a bucket with a large rock in it down the well to break the layer of ice that formed overnight. Then pulling it back using the attached chain. How was it that the water was heavier than the rock when I hauled it up again? I remember bringing in kindling, wood, and a few lumps of coal using a small bucket. I stayed close in the kitchen as the stove was warm and I knew that soon there’d be biscuits.
I cheered as you unveiled the beautiful gift of love your daughter sent. What a wonderful blessing that must have been. We must remember the lessons in the good times as well my friend. Thank you so much for sharing your recent lesson with me. God’s blessings sir.
It’s amazing how many more priceless memories were set in motion with your response, my friend. It’s also amazing how many things you share that make life in this challenging and oppositional world seem less daunting. God is so good at taking small, insignificant looking things (sometimes like you and me) and making them a source of blessing and encouragement. My days take on a different hue when you send pictures of life and nourishing truth that God sends through you. There’s tremendous power in that “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” thing. Doing that becomes some of that “good” stuff that overcomes evil, and I am grateful to be a recipient of it. God bless you, J.D. and I hope this Sunday morning is unfolding a lot less challenging than the “Mavric Morning” that greeted you last week.
Oh, the love that your daughter poured into completing this quilt started by Ma! I know you will cherish this all of your days, and hold precious memories of all the good your grandmother did during her life. Such a touching story, Ron. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you, Martha–and you are so right. It will be one of the irreplaceable and priceless treasures in our home as long as God leaves me here. I appreciate your sweet comment and love the heart that comes with it. God bless you for sending another uplifting and encouraging bright spot in our day.
Wow, talk about a blessing coming back to to me. I’ve sat here and cried reading your words this morning, understanding in a much more profound way, what this meant to you. You know I always say “every quilt is a memory quilt” because I think of my Mama whenever I sew. This one was extra special in that I remembered Ma (Granny to me) as well, grinning at times while I sewed at how I imagined you would react, then nervously hoping you would like it. I’m so incredibly humbled to see this post and thrilled I was able to create a memory and blessing for you during a rough patch. Love you much. Katie
I am so incredibly blessed by your response–and obviously overwhelmed by your creativity, craftsmanship, and willingness to sacrifice hours and hours of work to produce this priceless piece. It will always be one of the treasures in our house and one that won’t ever be shoved off in a closet to gather dust and never brought out. Expressions of gratitude are woefully inadequate, but we’ll keep saying thanks to you and sending lots of praise to God on your behalf as well. So keep your fingers nimble and your marvelous machines oiled–God is certainly using what you do.