There was wind whistling through the cracks and crevices in Virginia’s mountain house. “Shack” would have been a more apt description of the place she called home. The house was clean, but there was little else positive to say about it. The plaster was falling from the ceiling and walls, the roof leaked, and she shivered in the dark and cold that was a part of her everyday existence.
But the holes in her heart were even larger. She was a “war rat” – an unwanted, unloved, and ignored child. When her mother’s husband came home from the war and found his wife had borne a baby girl to his brother in his absence, he isolated the child and eventually sent her to live with a grandmother. As the years passed, she walked the tight rope of life with little to balance her and even less to cushion her many falls. Marriage, children, divorce, remarriage, his children, her children, their children until the numbers were in the double digits, and in it all, poverty that colored her life and the life of her family with a desperation that is as familiar to the poor as living and breathing.
In the little town where she lived there was a small Mennonite church. The kindly pastor and his wife also ran the local general store. Virginia often stopped to chat and found a friendly welcome with the family who ran the store. But her husband was unequivocally opposed to church. He was the proverbial Mountain man who tore through the town, engine at full throttle, to disrupt prayer meeting or whatever meeting that was going on at the little mountain church.
And then the little church found itself in the middle of the hardest thing that can happen to a church. There was a painful split and they found themselves with hardly any members and reeling from the pain and confusion that always happens when there is discord in the family of God. The church house, newly remodeled and beautiful was useless unless it had people to fill it.
Slowly, in the hearts of Faith, the pastor’s wife, and Rose, the fine wife of my brother Nelson, a dream began to form. They longed to touch the lives of the many women in their small town for Jesus, and they believed that there should be some way of learning to know them better, earning the right to speak to their lives, share in their sorrows and joys. They struggled against the temptation to turn inward and purposed that they would reach out in any way that was appropriate for Christian women in their situation.
So they began to meet on Thursday mornings in the colorful fellowship hall of their church. They posted some notices, spread the word by mouth and prayed. They had material for comforts, they had quilt frames that could be used, they encouraged ladies to bring their hand work and crafts and they made a cozy and comfortable and a safe place for women to get together and talk and sew and laugh and cry. They served a hot lunch to the women and demanded nothing in return. And it was into such a gathering as this, that Virginia (now in her late 50’s) crept one morning, trusting that an invitation from the pastor’s wife meant that she just might be welcome there.
Nothing could have prepared her for what happened to her in the months that followed. She was prayed for, she was loved, she was accepted, her work had value to the friends that she made in “Women’s Group” as together they put together “ugly blankets” used by the local homeless shelter, and pieced and knotted comforts for the needy in the area. But most importantly, a spark of Faith lying dormant in her heart began to be fanned into a holy fire, and the time came when she became a member of the church
Her house was still cold, dark and inadequate, but the light of the Lord Jesus was shining in her heart and it began to make a difference in how she related to her husband and to the many children they shared. And she enjoyed so much the time in the sunny and warm fellowship hall at the church. Virginia had a generous and giving heart and she longed to give back to the people who had taken her into the circle of friendship that defined her life.
On Thursdays, she often asked if she could please do the dishes after the meal that was served. The leaders of the group would usually say, “No, Virginia, we can do the dishes. You just go on and enjoy the sewing.” but she kept on asking until the day when they decided to let her do them. There is a large opening between the kitchen and the fellowship hall in their church and it soon became evident that Virginia was having a really good time in there doing dishes. She was bouncing around, singing and getting dishes done at an unusual speed.
Rose went into the kitchen and said, “Wow, Virginia! You surely act like you are happy to be doing dishes!”
She stopped and turned her face to Rose. “You don’t understand,” she said with a huge smile. “I’m doing dishes in my dream kitchen. All my life I’ve dreamed of doing dishes in a kitchen as nice as this one, and today, I’m living my dream!”
As the ladies listened to her life story, heard the incredible work of grace in her life and learned to love her, they pondered how they could help somehow with the living situation she found herself in. As a church, they began to discuss what they could do for her. And then there was a fire. In most houses, a chimney fire is reason for concern, but in an old, already falling down house, it is catastrophic. The house didn’t burn down, but the damage made living in it even more unsuitable. However, the family had no where to go, so they continued their meager existence in the shack on the side of the mountain.
But then the church, motivated by the Women’s Group, really felt strongly that they needed to something to help, and they hatched up a plan to replace the shack with a newer, brighter house trailer parked higher on the mountain. It was an endeavor blessed by the Lord on almost every hand. They found a trailer – not anything extra fancy, but in good condition, and they moved it in and began the seemingly endless task of getting things hooked up.
Down in the shack, Virginia watched longingly as the details worked themselves out. She could hardly believe that this wondrous place was going to be hers. Some days she would climb the hill behind her house to where the trailer was parked and she would sit in the sunny trailer and dream of the day when it would be her home. It took some doings, but that day finally came, and Virginia and her husband and some of their sundry children moved in.
If you meet Virginia, you would see a mountain woman, old before her time. She has plucky smile that belies the heartache she feels about the husband and the children that she has loved so long, but she is a woman with purpose. She knows where to go with her concerns and problems, she brings them to the Father, and she tells her friends that she made at church and encourages them to pray. She is a part of the body of Christ and she is needed and loved and appreciated. And that ornery mountain man, still not willing to come to church, has become softer and friendlier and even quieter towards the people his wife has taken into her heart.
The one thing that my sister in law says that hits me every time I hear it is this: “Sewing Circle (or whatever we want to call it) is not nearly as much about sewing as it is about building relationships.” Ladies, think for a minute about our calling. And why it is important that we form relationships. As women, it is so important that we are involved in things that have eternal value. That we affirm each other and validate each other, that we encourage each other that we “sharpen” each other. All of this happens, quite frankly, in the context of relationships. And we should, for that very reason, nurture relationships with people around us who don’t know Jesus. What is it that we have in our hands? Is it a needle and thread? Is it the ingredients for supper for someone? Is it a Bible study lesson? Is it a mop and a broom? Is it a love for children? Is it a pen and paper? Is it a computer? Is it a job that brings us into contact with people who are hurting? Any of these things can be the seed for a harvest of friendships. Friendships that we can (and should) use as an avenue for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A relationship provides a tool, a vehicle if you will, for the good news of salvation, and anytime we are blessed with the opportunity, we ought not let it slip.
~As told to Mary Ann Yutzy 10/30/08