In an instant, life happens, confronting us to take action.
I’ve been thinking about pants lately– not my current stack of jeans that, if I’m honest, fit a bit tighter than I’d like, but an old favorite pair that I once loved. Although these are from nearly twenty years ago now, a recent question in a staff meeting to share an embarrassing moment brought the memory back fresh. Maybe this old love has something new to teach me yet.
All those years ago, as a young newly-wed, I began grad school to finish my teaching license. As my friends were buying houses and birthing babies, I moved back to my hometown, a practical yet prickly move that countered that narrative of the small-town girl making it in the big city.
I commuted to campus for a full day of work and classes. Gas prices strained our budget; both of us commuting nearly an hour each. Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins, and Death Cab for Cutie discs helped pass the drive. My favorite pair of jeans– soft and worn in– kept me company on my long day. A splurge the year before, my cost-per-wear justified their purchase in my logic. In those pants, I felt like I “had it together,” covering what lay beneath.
Perhaps it was my age, perhaps my isolation and strange alienation and the fear of my returning home meant disappointing others’ expectations that made me cling to the jeans more than I should have. Style and confidence covered a whole lot of insecurity and confusion– I walked an unclear path.
Little Shop of Insecurities
You see, to finish my teaching license, I had to take undergrad tech theatre classes and volunteer in the costume shop. However, despite my presence there, I wasn’t part of that family, nor could I be. I knew that. Time and requirements didn’t allow; and my age, marital status, and commuter home, all served as invisible barriers. I remember feeling
in a world where everyone knew each other. My 4-H clothing project days and summer stock costume shop work provided some sewing experience, but I lacked confidence and felt insecure in my abilities. I didn’t really know what I was doing; even when I did, I felt unsure.
So these emotions clothed me that cold, fall day. Squatting down to grab a bolt of fabric, I heard the rip and felt the air against my skin.
“Oh, no. No, no, no!” I thought. A lump formed in my throat, and my eyes widened. I held my breath, unable to process the reality of the moment, but there was no denying. The seat of my jeans split open, and now I was exposed.
What Now Then
When I think back to this day, I could have run; I could have left campus and drove the hour home. I didn’t. I had a schedule
and people to please.
In embarrassment, I turned to the costume shop manager. What else could I say: “I ripped my pants.”
And so it began. I remember the extra fabric looped around my waist like a wrap skirt and the thoughts looping in my mind–
my pants were too tight,
my butt’s too large,
I’m too heavy,
I’m too old,
past my prime,
at my breaking point.
I fought back the tears, hiding them from the theatre majors ten years my junior, when I heard Maroon 5 play in the background… “she will be loved.”
In that moment, I chose something else— Mending. There was no way around it. I began to mend, not because I wanted to, not because I chose it, but because I had to. I patched the fabric, my stitches clumsy and noticeable. My fingers shook as my hand weaved the needle back and forth through fragile fabric filled with history and hope. I felt sad and alone in shame and vulnerability; I sat in my chair wearing what I can only describe now as grief. Not even sure grief about what. But I knew. It was done.This was now the best I could do.
I began to mend, not because I wanted to, not because I chose it, but because I had to.
As I tied the final stitch, I looked at the work. It would not be the same; it could not go back to how it was just moments before. As I slid them back on, I could feel the change. Confidence turned to conspicuousness. Love turned to loss. It was still there, ripples in the fabric. Nevertheless, I chose to move forward in my day. Larger priorities called my attention.
We all have moments that stop everything, moments that prompt sadness and disappointment and shame. Moments where we sit alone in a world of thought and experience, wanting this never to have happened, but now faced with a decision:
Do we run?
Do we hide?
Or do we mend?
We might not know exactly how, our stitches, sloppy and awkward. But we are here. We sit. We hold our fragile love in our hands and stitch by stitch make what was broken whole again.
We all have moments that stop everything, moments that prompt sadness and disappointment and shame. Moments where we sit alone in a world of thought and experience, wanting this never to have happened, but now faced with a decision.
For we have work to be done. Work we have been called to do. Our hearts pull us forward. Our legs, step by step, move us forward. We might feel alone, we might feel exposed, but then again, maybe we always have been. Playwright Eugene O’Neill wrote, “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.”
Yes, indeed, aren’t we? We are all trying to stitch ourselves up and make our way.
Lead with Grace, The Podcast celebrates the mosaic of everyday leaders leading right where they are with everything they are. Blending the practical and profound, conversations explore stories of vocation, especially as it intersects with communication, collaboration, connection, and calling.
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