Obscured, but still present

I’m sitting next to my kids as they make crafts out of paper. I taught my daughter how to weave paper strips through slits I cut in a blue heart-shaped piece of paper. She pushes the ribbons of colored paper over and under the slits in the blue heart. A yellow stripe pops up through the surface of blue only to be buried again an inch away, creating a checkered weave of yellow and blue.

Each strip of paper is just as present and engaged when it is hidden on the other side, tucked under another woven strip, even when we can’t see it. It soon pops up above the surface again, obscuring another colored strip. Eventually, as the colors take turns showing themselves and being hidden, a woven pattern emerges.

All weaving follows this concept. Warp threads—the long yarns or threads that run the length of a piece of cloth are tied to a loom and weft thread is wrapped around a shuttle that passes over-under-over-under the warp threads. In general, the warp and weft threads take turns presenting their colors to the viewer, but both remain present in the woven piece. They do not evaporate or dissolve or become lost in the moments they are not seen, when they are obscured by other threads. They are simply pushed below the visible surface, lending strength to the cloth through their tension as well as texture and pattern. The over-under-over-under pattern can be varied by allowing the warp or weft threads to remain visible more or less. The patter in a twill weave might be over two, under two, over two, under two. The weaver knows which set of threads to expose and which to hide in order to create the pattern desired.

In the academic paper, “Diapers, Dissertations, and Other Holy Things,” authors M. Elizabeth Anderson, Tamara Hall, and Michelle Willingham conduct a qualitative research study among mothers teaching at christian universities and colleges to search out what are the most important supports a Christian institution of higher education can provide to a mother working as a college professor. As part of the research process they ask the women what metaphors come to mind when living out their two roles of mother and professor. Some women prefer to think of the process as balancing their roles of mother and professor, keeping the two separate, but trying to make sure each side of their life receives enough attention and time to thrive. Others think of their task as weaving the two roles together in their lives, allowing the different parts to overlap, mix, and often each breaking into the other sphere. I find the weaving metaphor more comforting than the balancing metaphor. I don’t like to think of two important callings in my life sitting on opposite sides of a scale, separate and competing for my attention and time, always at war.

There have been times on my motherhood journey when parts of me have seemed to disappear completely, and I have wondered if they would come back. I find comfort in realizing that even though one part of me may be obscured for a time underneath another calling, it remains present, a thread strengthened by the other thread that is making it invisible for a time. Ultimately, through this, the Weaver who plans my days is making a pattern in the cloth of my life that is consistent with his glory and purposes, even when I can’t always perceive the design without the long view that he has.

Michelle Radford