The Best Approach

the-best-angle-from-which-to-approach-any-problem-is-the-try-angle-5I like puzzles, and I like to hand-quilt.

They’re similar in that they both put pieces together.

But they’re also very different. With puzzles, the corners are found and placed first. They provide direction and structure. With quilts, the corners are quilted last. Quilting starts in the middle and works outward to make sure all the wrinkles in the fabric are smoothed to the outside every step of the way.

We cannot take the exact same approach to everything we do. We must be willing to change as we look at the situation and discern what’s best. We can’t always insist on the easy way, the preferred way, the convenient way, or fastest way, or the most affirming way, although sometimes approaches will overlap as byproducts.

The best approach is always…the best approach.

I’m not just talking about puzzles and quilts. I’m talking about life. Knowing the best requires being willing the humbly look for and listen for the best. It means being willing to try things that are unfamiliar and even uncomfortable at times, listen to people we don’t know well or know well but disagree with, and take one step at a time, knowing that step might take us somewhere productive or might end up being a mistake from which we can learn and grow.

You might not know all the details of the best approach just yet, but you can take one simple step right now. An approach requires movement. Refuse to get stuck. Insist on growing. Take a step.

Approach life well.

The Stitches of a Marriage

quiltI’ve been working on a quilt to give my youngest daughter and her fiance when they get married this summer.

I’m a basic quilter. I use simple designs and hope the quilts will get used for years, perhaps generations, to come. While I admire my artsy quilter friends and the phenomenal creations they make, I prefer to stick to the basics. Probably because of all the quilts stacked and used in my parents’ and grandparents’ homes throughout my life. They were warm and cozy, and I loved to look at the fabrics and stitches and wonder about the stories behind each detail.

I machine piece and hand quilt. That means, I spend most of my time making small stitches to hold all the layers of the quilt together. It’s a big time commitment, especially with this king-size quilt, but I’m quilting it well. I want it to last.

One of the things I enjoy most about hand-quilting (and other handiwork and housework) is the opportunity I have to pray for the people who will receive it. Whether or not anyone ever uses this quilt, the prayers cannot be put in a closet. I’m investing beyond fabric and thread.

This is the first marriage quilt I’ve made. As I look at the stitches, I’ve reflected on so many different aspects of marriage.

Most of my quilting follows the lines of the seams. It provides strength as the quilt gets washed and spread out and folded through the years. While the lines to follow are straight, my quilting stitches sometimes meander a bit. It reminds me of how we do our best to follow God’s instructions for marriage, but we aren’t perfect. We go a bit crooked at times.

I try to be consistent in the size of my stitches. From a distance, it probably looks as if my stitches are the same, but I see up close. Stitches are slightly different lengths. It reminds me that no matter how consistent we try to be in marriage, we “short” some things and make others too long. In some ways, that’s okay; it shows our unique personalities. But we don’t ignore the need for consistency–just allow for flexibility. We still try.

I go through a lot of thread, and I need to secure the beginning and end of each piece I use. I can’t leave big knots, because they’ll get caught on something and the thread will break, causing layers of the quilt to separate over time. Hiding knots isn’t just for appearances. It’s practical. But those knots are important. Like marriage, we need to be secure, knowing what holds us together and taking care to set those things firmly in place.

The front of the quilt always looks better than the back. The front shows the full pattern. The front is my focus when I stitch. The underside is a bit less consistent, but it’s all the same thread. The back of the quilt is just as important as the front. It’s not a quilt without all the pieces, even if we only typically see it from one perspective. Like marriage, we can’t just look at what we want to see. We need to keep a broad perspective and appreciate the things we’d rather ignore at times: difficulties, vulnerabilities, hurts, and so on.

As I move my hoop to continue quilting, I realize I’m dealing less with layers and more with a cohesive quilt. What once was pieces is becoming a whole. The pieces don’t disappear. They remain intact. They simply get firmly stitched together to create something more.

Marriage is the same.