“If I could just figure out how to build a smaller frame… I want it to be a size that doesn’t take up a lot of space and that is easily moved. I want it to be about the size of a lap desk. That way I can move it wherever I need to and work on it anywhere in the house and it won’t be in the way. I would get so much more accomplished if I could figure out how to have an individual-size embroidery frame.” That was my constant personal challenge a few years ago. I was living in a rural village in Peru and I had learned to do the specific style of embroidery that is typical in the village. It involved a very large, wooden embroidery frame sitting on sawhorses. It took up about 6 ft. x 3 ft. of the room. Usually, on a good day, eight to ten ladies would crowd around the frame and we would all embroider on the same project. Of course, there were days when only a couple of ladies would be there. And then, there were days when no one was available to work and the enormous frame sat in the room like a giant monstrosity. Our family scooted and shuffled around it. I fussed when people sat things on it, as though it were a table. I fought with the cat, who seemed to always think that the top of the embroidery-in-progress looked like a great place to nap. It just seemed so inefficient to me. If I could figure out a way to somehow make it smaller, more mobile, more user-friendly. I had visions of being able to take it to another room and embroider while I watched my daughter do homework. Or maybe carry it upstairs and embroider while sitting in the bed. Just think of how much more I would get done if I wasn’t confined to the one room. And if every woman could have an individual frame, we could all work in our own homes at our own pace and get so much more accomplished!
I voiced this idea to my Peruvian neighbor on several occasions, but she never seemed to really be listening to me. She always changed the subject and we never really discussed it further. Until The Day I Got Schooled.
I’ll ever forget it. We were embroidering at the big frame, just me and Elva. I was lamenting (again) how slow the process was and how much more we could get done if I could figure out how to make individual frames for us. We could carry them to our own homes. We could work at our own pace. We would get twice or three times the amount done that we were currently able to do with the giant frame. Just think of it! And that’s when Elva slammed down her hands and lifted her head and said, “You just don’t understand, do you?! If you have a small frame, we won’t be together. We won’t get to work together. We won’t get to spend all of this time talking. We won’t get to laugh together. Why would you want that?!”
I had missed it. Without even thinking about it, I had let my cultural worldview overrule what I knew to be the better way. I had let efficiency trump relationship. I had let ‘saving time’ become more important than ‘spending time’. Even though I had spent hours and hours and hours (actually years and years and years) in training, I had somehow let my frustration over the size of an embroidery frame take precedence to the time I was spending with my neighbors building relationships.
It’s a sad commentary.
I write about this today because I was recently reminded of the incredible lesson that Elva taught me that day. I have changed countries of service now, and I am in a different place building relationships with different people. And this time, the handwork is quilting instead of embroidery. But the lesson is the same.
I recently joined a quilting group in my new country. We meet once a week for a few hours. I know how to sew, but the method they use for quilting here is completely by hand. It is slow, tedious work. For someone who has spent a lot of hours behind a sewing machine, this seems like torture! Tiny handmade stitches with the teeniest needle you can imagine. Agony for me. I think God is quietly laughing as he watches me work so hard on my patience skills! On numerous occasions, I have thought, “This is ridiculous! They sell sewing machines in this country. Every woman in this room owns one. So why are we quilting by hand?! This feels archaic and so pioneer-woman. Let’s just break out the machines and whip out beautiful quilts!”
As I was lamenting this to my husband, Mr. Perfect-and-Ultra-Relational says two words. “Embroidery frame.”
As I sit in that quilt group every week, I am doing a lot of listening and learning. I am learning about culture and about language. I am learning about the things that women in my town are interested in. I am learning how to read their body language and their tone of voice. I am meeting people and beginning to build relationships. We talk about our families and our lives. It is good stuff. Stuff that I wouldn’t be learning or noticing if I were sitting at my sewing machine.
If I had a sewing machine in my home, and if I weren’t doing this quilting by hand, I would not be sitting in my living room with my family. I would probably be sitting in another room, sewing like crazy on my electric wonder. And that’s just it – that’s the lesson. Right now, I sit in the living room and quilt while I talk to my daughter. I sit and quilt while my husband sits beside me and reads a book. I sit and quilt while watching my daughter play outside or while supervising her homework or while we have a funny family discussion about our day. None of that would happen if I were sitting in another room at my sewing machine.
Yes, it is slow. Yes, it takes patience. And maybe it isn’t the most efficient way to do it. But when we are talking about relationships, it is incredibly more effective! Relationships are slow to build. They take lots of patience. And they are worth it!
I’m so grateful for a giant eyesore of an embroidery frame and a fantastic Peruvian friend who taught me a really important lesson. And I’m happy to be learning it again, here in Spain. Slowly. Patiently. Building deep relationships.
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the Sarah (14) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!