the words we need

There are some words that have come to me—unbidden—in recent months: “trust in the slow work of God.” I knew they weren’t my own; at some point in my reading or studying or editing I had run across these words. For a while, I didn’t care so much about who wrote them. They were merely words that had, at some point in my life, buried themselves deep in my heart, only to come forward at a time when I have most needed them. “Trust in the slow work of God.” I finally checked: they were written by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in a poem prayer about uncertainty and becoming, about, as a Benedictine sister I know would say, “letting God be God.”

I have become much more reliant on this slow work of God since Ryan died. I have embraced slow activities: yoga, writing, gardening, quilting. None of these things is new to me. Over the years, I’ve done all of them. But now I see that the stillness of these activities, the gentleness of them, is essential to participating in and opening myself to God’s own slow work.

I learned to quilt from my grandmother, who pieces and quilts all by hand. It is peaceful and calming. People are often amazed when I tell them I quilt by hand, but I don’t want the bulk or work or noise of a machine. Needle, thread, thimble, fabric—it worked for Grandma, and it’ll work for me. I started quilting after Shaun died, in part to honor my grandma, who raised six kids, has lived with MS for many years, buried (at the time) two sons—and yet, her sense of humor is something to behold, her faith is shaken but strong. I needed to embody some of that strength, so I started stitching.

A friend of mine is pregnant and due any day now. I am making a baby quilt for her baby. It’s nothing big: just a little blanket that can be used for snuggling and playing.

I had purchased the fabric for this blanket before Ryan died. Happy, joyful colors, perfect for a baby. I had washed and ironed the fabric—and then put it in our guest room until I was ready to cut it into blocks. The procrastinator in me took over: I knew I had time. And then Ryan. I walked past that fabric as I packed for his funeral; it was waiting for me when I got home. Because I am determined not to let this death paralyze me, I finally got to work. I needed this blanket. Sometimes we do things just to do them: lawns need mowed, bills need paid, food needs cooked, baby quilts need made. And this would have been just that: a blanket made with love for a friend having her first baby. That is certainly reason enough.

But it has become something more to me. When life is nutty and things are barely making sense, we say we’re “hanging on by a thread.” This baby blanket has been an effort to gather those threads by which I’ve been hanging and turn them into something beautiful and good. Something that supports and holds a new little life entering this world that is at the same time astonishing and maddening, gorgeous and horrifying, simple and overwhelming, surprising and mundane. Much like my garden, this blanket is a way of saying, “Yes, there is unimaginable grief, but there is so much beauty too.” I can be in the midst of grief—strange and hidden though it may be right now—and still make something lovely.

It has taken me a long time to get to this place of trust with God. If my college-age self saw me now, she’d probably be affronted by my unwillingness to push God toward healing this. But my today self gets that there are things that can’t be pushed. There is slow work that is being done, and the most important thing required of me right now is to thread the needle and stitch.