Monthly Archives: July 2015

Farther Along

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We’ll understand it all by and by…

This past Sunday, July 26, was the first anniversary of my friend Lola’s death.  I have written about her several times here in Patchwork And Potpourri, sharing bits of my grief journey as I have tried to process her passing and make some sense of it.  While I have not been able to accomplish the sense-making part, I have found amazing pieces of comfort and blessing along the way.

Some months back, my church music director, Joan, planned an old-fashioned gospel singing (or as we in the South sometimes say, a “SANGIN'”!) for this date.  I cut my teeth on many kinds of music, but old-timey hymns and gospel songs are like mother’s milk to me, so I naturally jumped on the bandwagon…and then I realized what day it was, becoming uncertain and unsettled as to whether I’d be up for this gathering on such a poignant anniversary.  Oh, me of little faith!

At this point I need to back up and recall last year.  Lola had died on a Saturday, and I had committed some weeks before to sing a duet with my friend Marc the next day at our friend Greg’s church.  Part of me feared a complete breakdown in the middle of the song…but my inner musician kicked in and soldiered on.  Moments like these are when God works in ways that are beyond understanding, providing His strength in my weakness.  We sang, our voices blending in that unique way that Marc and I always seem to achieve, God singing through us to speak to those gathered there, and ministering to my soul in the midst of such overwhelming sadness.  Afterward we sat together behind the piano, and I began to cry silent, uncontrollable tears.  Marc reached for my hand and mouthed, “What…?” and I mouthed back, “Lola died yesterday.”  He had known all about her illness, prayed for her along with others I had asked to pray, and when I shared that she had died, he just held my hand and petted my arm.  No more words were needed.

The whole rest of last summer, God added feathers to my growing collection, signs of His eye upon the sparrow.  I had started collecting them years before, but in the wake of Lola’s death, I started finding them eveywhere!  Tons of feathers, showing up to remind me that she and my many loved ones in Heaven are all OK…and that I eventually would be OK, too.

This past Sunday, on Lola’s anniversary, once more I sang and made harmony with my longtime friend Marc, recalling last year’s moments of comfort in sadness, strength in weakness, music in tears.  We hugged and talked and laughed…and sang, the old gospel songs about Heaven and hope.  And as Marc and I left the church together, I found another feather, my first one in months.  “Feather!” I exclaimed as I  reached down to pick it up.  Marc said, “Oh yeah…”  I said it must be a Happy-First-Anniversary-In-Heaven-for-Lola feather, and he agreed.

A favorite old song of mine is “Farther Along”.  Granny used to sing it and Mama taught it to me.  It has been recorded by artists ranging from Southern Gospel quartets to The Byrds, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.  The chorus states:

“Farther along we’ll know all about it,

Farther along we’ll understand why.

Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine.

We’ll understand it all by and by.”

As I sang it this past Sunday I thought of Lola, her death and her life, and how much I still don’t understand why she had to leave us so soon.  I thought about Joan and the lovely blue hydrangeas from her garden that she had brought in to decorate the tables, reminding me of the ones from Mom Cutshaw’s backyard.  I thought of the almost mystical harmony that happens whenever Marc and I sing together.  I thanked God for these gifts and mysteries.

And once more I looked forward to that day when things I wonder about now will somehow make sense…farther along, by and by.

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In Stitches

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Mama, The Aunts and the fabric of memory

I’ve been missing Mama and The Aunts a lot lately.  Mama’s birthday was July 4, and the second anniversary of Aunt Ruby’s passing is coming up on August 12, so I guess those are a couple of reasons they’ve been on my mind.  While I was blessed to know all of Mama’s sisters well, when I refer to The Aunts, it’s Aunt Ruby and Aunt Martha I am thinking of.

They were the ones who sewed quilts together with Mama, along with Ruby Allred, our next-door neighbor on Ford Street.  I and many of my family members possess these works of art and craft, some stored away in cedar chests while others decorate our beds and couches.  Their colors and patterns brighten our lives and homes with warmth, both physical and spiritual.

It is fairly easy to determine the age or era of our family quilts by the fabrics used to make them.  Lots of the older ones contain material from many of Granny’s old dresses, and they are backed with a type of cotton fabric that Mama and The Aunts called “domestic”.  It was basically a coarse cotton muslin near as I can tell.  Later quilts were backed with king-size bed sheets.  They provided a good expanse of seamless fabric and were smoother than domestic.  I think that domestic had become more costly as well, which may have contributed to the switch.  Some of the later quilts also had lighter-weight batting inside between the patterned top and the plain backing.  These lighter quilts are perfect for use in warmer weather.

The older quilts backed with domestic seemed to pucker up more after laundering, especially if the batting was also all-cotton.  I love that almost seersucker-y texture of an old quilt, as well as the weight and substance of it.  I love the contrast of white stitching against solid-colored fabric.  Mama and The Aunts and “Mamaw” Allred sewed with such precision!  They made such teeny-tiny, evenly-spaced stitches, as Aunt Martha would say, “Ever’ stitch a stitch of love.”

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Nowadays quilts are available in many stores, mass-produced, machine-made items, often designed to look like their older, handcrafted counterparts.  And many of them are good quality and beautiful.  I’ve actually bought some retail quilts over the years.  But even the nicest ones can’t rival the quilts made by Mama and The Aunts and “Mamaw” Allred.  The hours spent choosing the fabrics, cutting and marking, and the late nights sitting around the frames as their thimbled fingers sewed—no amount of money can buy the love they left behind, in stitches.

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Plus Size

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It’s not always a bad thing…

Patchwork And Potpourri is not my first foray into the blogosphere.  For anyone who does not know, I underwent radical weight loss surgery 3 years ago in an effort to improve my well-being and quality of life.  As part of the weight loss process, I wrote a blog about that journey, from my first consultation with my weight loss surgeon through my 2-year surg-i-versary, which happened last year while I was in New York preparing to sing a concert with several choral groups at Carnegie Hall.  It was a no-holds-barred look into my experiences with medically-supervised weight loss prior to surgery, the tests required for insurance approval, surgery and recovery and all the nitty-gritty-nuts-and-bolts ranging from periods, poop and vomit to changed relationships resulting from my changed appearance.  The weight loss blog is located at:

http://www.incredibleshrinkingdiva.blogspot.com

I encourage anyone with weight or self-image issues, especially anyone considering weight loss surgery, to visit there and read about the good, the bad and the hilarious stops along my weight loss path.

My total weight loss was 136 pounds, and at my lowest weight I actually dipped a few pounds below my dietician-recommended minimum (although that didn’t last very long!).  In the past year I have regained a bit of the weight because I’ve been trying to comfort myself.  Three friends died from cancer this past year, and, while some people turn to alcohol or drugs to medicate their pain, my substance of choice has always been food.  And as I said to a friend yesterday, nobody eats broccoli for comfort!  “Comfort food” for me is generally laden with starch, fat and sugar.  Delicious stuff for sure…and deadly for some of us if we indulge too much or too often.

The good news is that I have visited with my dietician and started to unpack the pounds I packed on this past year.  I have a conference next week which involves a dressy dinner, and I can zip myself comfortably into the dress I bought for the occasion, which is a victory—and a relief!  I’m still well over a hundred pounds down from my highest weight and largest size, and I’m on the healthy wagon once more hoping to shrink back to my lowest weight and smallest size.

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Even at my smallest, I am not a skinny person.  I never will be.  I have way too many boobs and hips to ever be skinny!  And that’s fine.  God made me curvy.

God also made me sensitive, more than some people in my life have been comfortable with.  Sometimes folks have made me feel bad, ashamed of my tender nature, as though sensitivity equals weakness.  More than once I’ve even tried to “change” how I am, without success, of course.  I have come to realize that big feelings are just part of my basic wiring, and, while sensitive people do require a bit of special care, we’re not broken, as some people would have us think we are.  The same critics who say I’m too sensitive always seem to be grateful for my compassion when THEY need it.  It’s funny how that works sometimes.

Parts of me will always be plus size.  And that’s fine, too.  I laugh and cry bigger than most people, because I feel my feelings more deeply.  Dolly Parton once described herself as having a brain underneath the hair and a big heart underneath the boobs.  I’d like to think that’s me as well.  (Maybe we’re related!)

Am I glad I had surgery and shrank my body?  Absolutely!  Would I do it again, knowing what I know now?  In a heartbeat.  My hips and ankles don’t hurt anymore.  I feel healthier and stronger.  And I feel more free to live my life no longer being ashamed about the parts that are stil big: my personality, feelings, hips, boobs and HAIR!

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Tempest

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It was a dark and stormy night…

After a few weeks of very dry weather, we finally received some rain, accompanied by lightning and thunder. It wasn’t scary, loud thunder that shook my house.  It was more that rumbly, distant kind of thunder that can be relaxing, almost musical, to hear.  I love this kind of storm and the way it can lull me to sleep.  But the other night was a different story.

After trying to sleep for a while with no success, I got out of bed and went downstairs to read for a while.  I thought I might even attempt to write a blog post.  My mind has been both full and empty recently; full of conflicted thoughts and empty of anything worthwhile to write about.  At least, it has felt that way.

As usual, when I got up, the dog got up with me.  Once settled in on our comfy couch, though, he was back to sleep soon enough.  I envied him for his ability to rest so peacefully.

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Since it had been a while since I wrote a blog post and ideas were not coming to me, I retrieved a book from my shelf in hopes that it would spark meaningful thoughts that I could share.

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I was not in a good place for writing, because every writing prompt I looked at and thought about seemed to have some sort of painful memory attached to it.  Recent conversations have opened old wounds and have made new ones.  I’ve found myself confronted by a kind of hate I was unprepared to face.

Writing, or speaking, the truth, is not always nice, or pleasant or pretty.  But it shouldn’t be hateful.  We all have opinions, and we all have a right to express them.  And if people choose to be hateful, I guess they have that right as well.

By the same token, we have the right to minimize our exposure to the hate, even if it comes from within our own family or “friends”.  Gracious God, help me to hand over to You my pain and my anger, and to keep handing it over until I can leave it with You once and for all.  Soothe the tempest that threatens me.  I come to You with open hands and a broken heart.  Fill me so full of Your love that there’s no room for anything else—Amen.

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