Living A Prayer Quilt – Sewing My Story

I don’t know how long I’ve sat here, fingers on the keyboard, unmoving.  There is so much to say, that I can’t seem to say anything.  The vice around my heart and stomach has spread to my tongue and hands.  How do I write it, and write it well?  How do I honor the best and worst, both?  I have sat here like this, countless times, over more than a year, and written nothing.  Today I cannot walk away.  This quilt began in heartbreak but ended in hope – a cycle we all live frequently, I believe.  So, today, because I feel heartbreak but NEED hope, I’m sharing my Living A Prayer Quilt.

There was a moment in 2019 that is burned into my memory.  I knew, in the moment, that I would never forget it.  It’s an image of one of my children in what felt, at the time, like a tragic moment.  And while we got through it, and have since lived through much better and much worse, somehow this moment was a visual representation of ALL of it.  If I was a painter, I would have run for my brush and splashed dark colors across a huge canvas. But I am a quilter, so I started sewing instead.  And every time the anxious worry returned, I made another block.  (I do that a lot now.)

You know the difference between the hard things you keep private at home, and the public life you live outside, or the life others perceive you to live.  We all have hard stuff, and, appropriately, not all of it is for sharing.  Some of it is just our private struggle to work through.  But sometimes that private struggle takes us to deep, dark places, particularly if it involves mental health, addiction, or personality/development/behavior disorders.  I have come to call it “the ocean beneath”, because we may see the surface of it, but have no real idea how deep it goes or what exactly goes on down there.  Unless we’re in it, for ourselves or for someone we love.

In this quilt, the dark red blocks represent what goes on beneath the surface.  I chose the colors to represent pain, urgency, heaviness, darkness, discouragement.  They are set on point, to depict the edgy, prickly nature of it in comparison to the neat stacking of the pastel blocks above.  It’s dimensions are a little disproportional – too narrow for how long it is.  I did this to convey the depth of hard places.  Several fabrics appear in both the top and bottom sections, to depict the back and forth of life.  The seam where the two settings and color schemes meet represents the threshold of my home. 

The pastel blocks represent the person I appear to be when I’m at the grocery store, greeting a friend, being part of my community, etc.  They also represent the lives I am tempted to compare mine to, which seem to be tidy and pretty.  There is definitely urgent and serious challenge in that world (alluded to in the darker red pieces on the right in the top pastel blocks), but it appears to me that problems are dealt with more quickly and effectively without the added muddle of mental health and other similar issues.

I want to live in the pretty pastel blocks.  But the truth is, real life is BOTH.  For all of us, no matter what our challenges are.  The ocean may go deeper for some, but we all know this duality.  A friend of mine, who deals with a personality disorder in her family, does not speak freely of the challenge because it would mean betrayal to her loved one.  Sharing the burden would destroy a precious relationship so she focuses on the positive and on what she can control.  She is not pretending all is well; she is doing her best in difficult circumstances.  It stings when people say to her, “I wish my family was like yours.  Your life is so amazing.”  They are comparing their deep dark places to the pretty pastel blocks they can see.  

Sometimes I look at this quilt and think “that pretty world is VERY far away right now”.  Sometimes when I’m out in that world I feel like a stranger there, and wonder if people can see it.  But I belong there, just like you do.  I have to just do my best.  One day my friend asked me, “Am I living a lie?” My heart ached at the sadness in her voice.  And somehow, before the words were in my head, they were out of my mouth, “NO.  You’re living a prayer.”

It’s true.  She’s living a prayer.  It’s an act of faith to get up, go out in the world and function in healthy, happy ways.  It’s also good practice.  So this quilt is titled Living A Prayer.  I made it to work through the contradictions and sadness in my own life.  I made it for my friend.  And I made it because, no matter what our ocean looks like, we can make it.  We must.  The Living a Prayer quilt is a quilt about heartache.  It’s also about faith, believing in good things to come.  Be grateful for the lessons your ocean teaches you.  Use them to serve others.  Get on your knees.  Pray with all the energy of your heart, for guidance, faith, mercy, strength, grace.  Then get up and go to work.  Believe in better days ahead.  LIVE YOUR PRAYER.

I’m right there with you. 

 

 

22 comments

  • Tarnia

    Thanks. I needed this after the week/month/year/kids life times I live through putting on a face and going on out there. The only ones who understand are those whose lives are similarly hard and imperfect, and filled with the prayers for healing, or health or improvement or just hope.
    Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Kara Reber

    This is so poignant and beautiful and heartbreaking all in one. It’s gorgeous, Jennifer.

  • jennifer

    Thank you Kara! That’s what I was trying to accomplish, so I appreciate your comment more than you now. Hope you are well!

  • jennifer

    Tarnia, Thank you for this comment! I think more of us understand than any of us realize. Isn’t it nice to know there are other travelers on hard roads? Bless you in your journey, and I hope you find all the hope and healing your heart needs. -Jennifer

  • Wow! So very well put and spoken for so many of us that ache for our loved ones that struggle or for those that we struggle to be there for. Thankfully mental health and addiction are becoming somewhat safer to talk about it’s still so hard….and often so painful. And heart breaking at times…. such a roller coaster ride.

  • I was searching for darker hues mixed in with the lighter areas. I was sure you had to put them there because there are days the darkness shows through the cracks a little, when the surface is wafer thin. What a beautiful quilt. So glad you didn’t just pass this off as ‘another’ quilt, but shared a bit of your story. These sorts of quilts are the very hardest to make, and yet, so enduring and special.

  • Susan

    It is true that all of us have an ocean. It is also true that many of us are swimming as fast as we can, even though we feel like we are drowning. “Live Your Prayer” is such an apt description. Thank you for sharing it and your reasons for making it.

  • Maritza Burgos Rivas

    Hi Jennifer, I just stumbled upon your blogg, and as I read, it resonated at a deep level, as I navigate a life’s journey of contrasts, joy, sorrow, tears, laughter, fear, grief, but the one constant underpinning it all and what keeps me afloat, day after day, is Love and Hope and Faith.
    Love of life with all its imperfections ,Hope and Faith, which remind me that there’s always a new day, with new opportunities to heal, change, improve learn.
    But living in the present moment, taking it all in, and taking time to explore, express and create something out of the miriad of feelings, it’s a tangible way to make sense of it all.
    After a few decades of living life as working mum, wife, (now no longer a wife), an older Sister, and now a days a Daughter of elderly parents, and still mothering an adult child through his own life’s struggle ,
    I find myself increasingly drawn to finding my own little space to reflect and express, so I have dusted off my old sewing machine and have created a little corner as my sanctuary, to go explore with threads and fabric and find myself as I make something just for the experience of trying to tell my journey through the bits of fabric and thread, in colours and patterns that reflect how I’m feeling at the time.
    As you write in your piece, it’s an ongoing prayer, that reflects pain, love, hope and faith
    I shall keep at it, and will check back with your posts.
    Love and light.
    Maritza

  • Katharine Betts

    What a beautiful moving quilt. Your story made me remember that sharing the darkness and knowing that hope will reach out in full color touched me deeply. Hope is everything it’s sometimes all we have. Thank you for sharing this!!!

  • “Living a Prayer” …. so true. Glad I stumbled across your blog today in someone’s reading list. Thank you for sharing.

  • Leisa

    Such a tragically beautiful post. There is the Budhist mustard seed parable. A woman mourns the loss of her child. She goes to the Buddha to seek solace. He tells her to gather mustard seeds from households untouched by death. And so she goes, but of course finds no households untouched by death. Thus is the teaching of the parable.

    The sharing of our stories of life’s beneficence and tragedy helps us understand that all family’s experience some manifestation of each. I was touched by how you reflected your circumstance into your quilt. A beautiful rendering of your processing of your pain. Thank you for beautiful post.

  • jennifer

    Thank you Leisa, I had not heard that parable before. I’m grateful for your insightful comment, thank you so much!

  • jennifer

    Thank you Karen, I’m so glad you visited!

  • jennifer

    Katharine, thank you for your lovely comment! I’m so glad my quilt resonates with you. And yes, I’m so grateful we have hope!

  • jennifer

    Maritza, your comment is beautiful, and such a sampling of many of life’s challenges and joys. Isn’t it nice to know we’re not alone? We may all be in our own version of it, but our journeys have so much in common. May you enjoy God’s sweetest blessings as you keep at it, living your prayer! Thank you!

  • jennifer

    Susan, that feeling of drowning in spite of all our best efforts is one I think we can all relate to. Thank you so much for your beautiful comment!

  • jennifer

    Thank you Audrey! You’re right, we all have cracks, just like we all live some version of what I described. I loved making this quilt, as it was the only thing I could safely do to express what I felt. It’s the talking about it that’s hard, so your generous response is much appreciated.

  • jennifer

    Thanks Wendy, and I agree with you that we’re getting better at talking about really hard things, and supporting each other in them. I’m sure we will continue to improve. Thanks for your comment!

  • Paula McKinlay

    Jennifer….
    You are anamazing writer… wow… you are truly one of Heavenly Fathers choice daughters….. you give others hope…. I am blessed to know you.

  • jennifer

    Thanks Paula, those are kind words, indeed. I’m blessed to know you as well!

  • Bonnie Ellsworth

    Thank you for putting words to my heart.
    I am ever grateful…

  • Alinda Coiner

    When I first saw your quilt I’ll be honest it wasn’t one of my favorites. But then I read your story and realized how perfect and beautiful a quilt it is. I struggle with bipolar disorder and chronic migraines. I have to put that “face” on everytime I walk out the door so people don’t see the real struggle of pain and the constant roller coaster of my moods. It’s hard somedays to be honest, especially when I’m going through a manic attack or the pain just gets so bad I just want to die.

    One thing I am trying to do is erase the stigmatism that pervades mental illnesses and tell people about my bipolar disorder. So that they can see that on the good days I’m just like everyone else. And even on the bad days I’m not completely crazy.

    Your quilt is just perfect and inspiring!! Thank you for sharing your story and for making this quilt.

    Peace be with you!
    Alinda ????

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