I am by the stove cutting warm loaves of dark bread.
My mother is at the window, sewing new and vintage fabric pieces together.
I listen to the hum of the machine, thread lacing down, through, up, through, listening to her.
“Now you try. Just slowly. Take your time and really focus.”
Her crown of white hovers over a little one’s shoulder.
“Like this, Gram?”
I turn to see a little girl’s furrowed brow lit by the machine’s glowing light.
They are stitching up blankets for the PCU at the local hospital. The needle stitches crisp new cottons to a backing of reclaimed, familiar flannels.
Hope’s eyes are fixed on that quarter inch seam allowance, the curving arcs of the material.
“Yes, that’s it, Hope. Now if you’ll stop a moment…”
The machine drones to a halt. Butter melts into the steaming warm slices. I ladle garden vegetable soup into a circle of waiting bowls.
“If you’ll look closely, do you see how it puckers here, when you push the material through?” Mama leans in.
“Don’t rush, or push the fabric along. If you push the material through, you’ll end up with wrinkled, disappointing handiwork. You just guide…”
“Gently?” Hope offers.
“Yes!” Mama lights. “That’s it precisely: no pushing…or you’ll wrinkle everything. Just guide gently.”
My ladle hangs midair.
Empty bowl waits in one hand.
I might have ears to hear.
Sunlight streams in. The needle again begins to purr. I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and finger write those words on my mind:
“Just guide gently.”
Push and it will all pucker.
How many perfectly good days have I wrinkled because I pushed, arms heavy with an agenda?
How many happy faces have I wrinkled into distress with pushing words: “Hurry up!”
I don’t even want to consider how many bare, beating hearts I have crinkled and crumpled with my pushing for more. Pushed and puckered.
I come to, fill the waiting soup bowl, and whisper it again, etching it deeper, “just guide gently.”
The Spirit nudges: “This is what I meant the other morning. You underlined it, remember?”
I find black ink marking the words:
“Therefore, although in Christ, I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love.”
– Philemon 1:8-9
I could be bold and order you.
Push, push, push.
Yet I appeal to you on the basis of love.
Just gently guiding. Gently serving. Gently leading by caring, encouraging, edifying.
Wasn’t it Mama who also pulled me up on her lap as a four-year-old and told me the fable of the sun and the wind, arguing over which of the two was the stronger? I can still feel her leaning close:
“The Wind began to blow cold blasts, but the man only drew his cloak tighter about him to keep out the cold. Then the Sun took his turn, and under the sun’s rays, the man then threw the coat off!”
She turned me to look me in the eye: “Remember that, girl of mine: gentleness can do what force always fails to do.”
I could be bold and order you…yet I appeal to you on the basis of love.
To release a child to be all that he or she was meant to be requires the sun, requires guiding gently with loving words of encouragement. Recent research confirms:
A study of twenty-two grade eight students found that those who were lit with positive feelings generated significant more creative and problem-solving ability than the group of students in which “a neutral mood was induced.”
Appeal on the basis of love, with a light touch of guidance and the warm igniting of encouragement, and watch hearts and minds creatively, joyously thrive. Gentle guiding reaps far more than pushing.
Bowls served and dinner bell waiting to be rung, I survey the trail of rainy day pursuits: strewn legos, a blizzard of paper snippets, scraps of material flung about for good measure.
Take a deep breath, O Heart. Push and the day—no, more than the day— delicate hearts, will pucker.
What if I were to just guide gently?
“What a day we’ve had, best beloveds!” Books are set aside, scissors left, and masterpieces presented.
“Such color! What a design! You made that by yourself?” Hearts embroidered with edifying words.
“Let’s clean this all up together?” A love appeal.
My hands, their hands, we sort, organize, gather. I run my hand across the clean counter.
My mother smiles, her showing me how to just guide gently — this pucker-free pattern for hearts.