Tag Archives: creativity

What the future will bring

I learned to sew in Home Economics class when I was eleven years old, and I continued to sew for the next 40 years—until I got a job that required travel more than half of the year. When I was at home, I had too much catching up to do to sit and sew.

For me, sewing requires dedicated time and a certain state of mind. I need to be able to focus on what I am making. Sewing gives me the most pleasure when I can spend an hour or two (or more) at my sewing machine.


Knitting has taken up some of the space I would have devoted to sewing; gardening has taken up some as well. They are both creative outlets for me, but they are not sewing.

Sewing was spiritual for me. I thought it was almost miraculous that I could take a rectangular piece of fabric and in as little as a half hour, turn that piece of fabric into a skirt. The idea of something being transformed into something else spoke to me of God’s creating from nothing and of God’s being able to reshape us (I love the image of God as a potter, creating something from a lump of clay).

I have other hobbies I can do while doing something else (I can knit while watching television, for example, or read a book while I am in a waiting room) but sewing requires its own space and time without distractions.

By the time my friend Jim got brain cancer, I hadn’t done any serious sewing for about ten years. We had not talked about my sewing, so I was surprised when, a few days before he died, he said, “I hope you sew again.” It seemed to come out of left field, but when I reflect on it now, I can see what he saw—my life was fuller when I sewed. I was more myself with that creative outlet.

But since he died ten years ago, I still have not started sewing again.

Then one day in France three months ago, I had the thought, “I want to sew.” A few days later, I was in a baby shop looking at hand-sewn bibs, and again I thought, “I want to sew.”

Ironically, that morning at prayer, two Scriptures had spoken to me:

Isaiah 43:16-17: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new, and

Philippians 3:14: Just one thing, forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead….


Sewing is from my past; could it also be in my future?

Is it time for me to return to this hobby of old, even to see if it is still something that brings me joy?

Do you have a hobby from your youth that still calls to you? That still engages your imagination and fosters a sense of creativity?

Creating my vision board

I recently created a vision board, something to help me focus during my sabbatical year—travel I am planning, the things that bring me joy and goals I have set.


Even the first step of writing down what is important to me was helpful in identifying what I do and don’t want to do.

Without a job to go to or my mom to care for, I have plenty of free time, and I want to focus that time on exploring the next chapter of my life.

I scoured magazines for pictures to illustrate my dreams, goals and vision; and in the process, I realized how people my age are often portrayed. We are the parents who have memory issues and need care (often shown as an elder with a fifty-something adult child sitting on a park bench). Or we are the empty nesters looking to downsize (which usually means moving to a planned community where everyone is our age).

Where are the pictures of people like my friend Betty, who for her eighty-eighth birthday went on a twenty-mile bike ride? Or my mother who lived in her own home until she died at ninety-five?

Where are the pictures of us hiking at a state park (as I did with some friends a few weeks ago)? Playing cards (our memories still intact enough to remember the rules)? And gardening, kayaking, walking, running and biking?

Where are the pictures of us in classrooms, learning new languages, skills and hobbies?

Or in classrooms teaching younger generations skills that will help them in life?


I am not denying that with age comes decline. I cannot run like I did when I was forty, and I am usually asleep by 10:30 p.m., 11:00 at the latest. I no longer go to bars for nights of drinking (not that that was ever a good thing to do), and I am much more conscious of my calorie intake (I use fewer calories as I am aging).

I do, though, still look forward to the future. I am excited about the prospects of my next chapter and am still discerning where and how I can best use what I have learned in my life. I want to follow my mother’s example and live until I die, open to new ideas and learning new things. I want to keep discovering what brings me joy and where God is calling me to share what I have learned from life.


Patience and faith

The forsythia in my back yard had very few flowers the past three springs. I pruned it every spring since I moved here, hoping it would produce abundant blooms. A friend who knows about such things told me there are some varieties that flower less and suggested I consider getting a different variety. I was about to give up on my forsythia, and then it bloomed.faith-patience-GodBe patient, Madeline, I heard God saying.

A few weeks later, I was at a retreat center that has a labyrinth. During a workshop break, I visited the labyrinth and started to walk meditatively along the outer circle. At the first turn in the path, I stopped and looked at the stone in the middle. The brochure had said it was a symbol of Jacob meeting God. I pondered that for a bit and then I had an impulse to just walk to the middle, to skip the layers of circles and jump to the center.faith-patience-godThe words of Teilhard de Chardin came to me.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

 And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

 Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

 Be patient, God again said to me.

Patience is a virtue that I can work on, and it seems God is inviting me to develop this virtue.patience-faith-godFaith, on the other hand, is a gift that is about desire and openness.

Taken together, patience and faith invite me to let go of my expectations and my rush-to-the-end attitude. They invite me to accept what is just the way it is, and to move against my tendency to want things to be other than they are.

Patience and faith invite me to lean into God and let God lead me, to accept what is with gratitude and even joy. Opening my hands to receive what God offers, waiting for the gift and holding it loosely enough that I don’t crush it—that is the stance of patience and faith.

Like the forsythia in my yard, I want to surprise the people who have tended to me by trusting God’s grace and becoming the person God intended.

Tapioca pudding and taking risks

Desserts that have no chocolate rarely appeal to me—why waste the calories?

There are a few exceptions, though, including tapioca.

One of the adjustments I had to make when I moved to Canada was different packaging for a host of food products, including tapioca. Growing up, we always had tapioca in the red box; I didn’t know it came any other way. In the house where I lived in Winnipeg, I found a bag of tapioca in the pantry and decided to try it. I read the directions on the bag, which were different from what I remembered on the red box, so I ignored them and cooked it the way I remembered it.

I hadn’t realized that tapioca in the red box was “instant” tapioca (even though it is called “minute” tapioca). The tapioca in the bag was “old-fashioned,” which means more than a minute.


Of course, the tapioca did not turn out—it was more like thick paste than tapioca—and I scraped the gooey mess out of the pot and into the trash, pledging that I would follow directions in the future.

The memory of that mistake came back to me the other day. I am not sure what triggered it, but I believe that memories bring a message that is relevant to my life today, and I have been pondering what the message of this memory might be.

Had I not followed directions? Had I rejected guidance or advice? Had I done something rash? Irresponsible? Why had this memory come back to me now? And what was the message?

Shortly before I remembered the tapioca incident, a friend and I had been talking about retirement and what we might do when the time comes. I often find myself daydreaming about retirement, even though it is still some years off.

She said she feels God is calling her to generativity.

“Be generative,” I said, and the phrase stayed with me. In the days following that chat, I repeatedly said to myself, be generative.

But what does generativity look like for me? And is it somehow connected to the memory of the tapioca disaster?

In thinking about it, I realized that I used to be much more impulsive and spontaneous. I thought directions were merely suggestions, and I didn’t necessarily believe they were meant for me. It wasn’t just with tapioca, but with most everything in my life. I was more of a rule-breaker than a rule-follower.

Over the years, though, the pendulum has swung in the other direction and I have become much more of a rule-follower. I tend it play it safe, taking fewer risks and being more aware of how things might look to others. I still have wild impulses, but I rarely act on them.

Perhaps, the pendulum has swung too far, and the key to generativity for me is to take more risks and be more spontaneous. Maybe it is time to step out of my comfort zone and take a chance.

Spiritual Pathways

The windows in my new house are odd sizes, ruling out ready-made window treatments. Fortunately, I know how to sew. Home economics was a required class for girls in my elementary school, and I learned to sew when I was eleven years old.

I started sewing most of my clothes and then clothes for others. My younger sisters grew up wearing dresses I made—and later, their daughters did the same.

In just thirty minutes, I could take a yard and a half of fabric and change it into a skirt. Sewing was magical.

The whirr of the machine was a white noise that transported me to a place of silence and sharpened my focus—it was just me and what I was creating.

I was continually fascinated by the idea that a few cuts and some stitches could change an ordinary piece of fabric into something wearable.

Sewing became my icon for transformation—if I could work such magic, imagine what God could do with me, how God could cut away the excess and reshape me into something completely new and different.

Of course, the fabric gave itself over completely for me to rework it. I, on the other hand, have a free will, and it can be a very strong will.

Over the years, I have sewn clothes for a number of people. I once made a raw silk skirt for one friend and a wedding dress for another. One friend calls me every Thanksgiving when she dons the apron I sewed for her more than twenty years ago.

When I took a job that required a great deal of travelling, my sewing time diminished—a sewing machine does not travel well. Knitting became my go-to creative outlet, and I carried my yarn and needles around the world.

Gradually the amount of time I spent sewing dwindled to almost nothing. I don’t think I even touched my sewing machine during the nine months Jim was sick.

Jim’s illness gave him lots of time to ponder, and he processed the events and relationships of his life. He also thought about what my life would be like after he died. We knew that I was going to move to Michigan, and he wondered if I would live in the city or if I would plant a new perennial garden. He thought I should live near a lake. One day he suggested my new life should include sewing. It seemed so random.

But as I sat at my sewing machine the other day and started to make curtains, I remembered his comment. One of the things I miss about Jim is how tuned in he was to what nourished my spiritual life.



Emerging Images

On a recent flight to Philadelphia, I sat next to a woman who was on her way back to Europe after having shown her documentary at a film festival in Ann Arbor. She explained that the idea for this film had been germinating for a long time and she finally decided to make the film—whether anyone ever saw it or not, or whether anyone liked it or not. She needed to make this documentary for herself.

She told me that her film is about the process of developing photos, what we see and how images emerge and change through the chemical development process. One of the images in the film is of her mother’s hands. I asked if her mother had seen the film. Yes, she had, and she liked it. She also told her daughter that she was proud of her.

My writer’s mind immediately went to her mother’s reaction to the film. I wondered if her mother had insights about how she saw her daughter before and after watching the film and if her image of her daughter had changed because of the film. I wondered if the film was a metaphor for her daughter emerging through her work and if the film was a catalyst for her mother to openly express her pride. I wished I could talk with her mother to hear first-hand how the film impacted her.

The mother-daughter relationship can have all kinds of complexities and complications, and I am always grateful for the opportunity to hear a mother’s reflections on her daughter and their relationship. I remember being at an Al-Anon meeting where a women expressed her regret at not standing up for her daughter; she told us, but could not bring herself to tell her daughter. How happy I was to hear this mother’s confession—and how sad to know that her daughter had not heard it.

I wanted to speak with this woman and encourage her to talk to her daughter. I wanted to tell her that her daughter would be grateful to hear her mother’s confession and know her regrets. But, of course, I did not tell her that, because I did not know how her daughter would react. I could only insert myself into her story and envision how I would react. And even that was supposition since she was not my mother and this was not my relationship.

The woman on the plane had won an award for her documentary, and I was happy for her success. I was even happier that her film was an occasion for her mother to tell her that she was proud of her—what a great gift.