Ryder has been studying karate since September. We waited many years to allow him to make the commitment. He has jumped in with a steadfast dedication that has even blown me away. At his dojo (school) he is challenged to achieve a new belt color every three months. Through Bible memorization, obedience to his teachers, and mastering new karate moves, he has made his goal once more last week by achieving his second belt and has full intentions to go to black. As Ryder removed his yellow belt and his daddy helped him tie on his stiff new orange one, the sensei (teacher) explained why we don’t wash the belts. He said that the hems are dirtied, the bands worn through the battle of learning and persevering. I liked this and not just because it meant less laundry for me.
I have touched many hems in my life, some dirty and some not. From ten years old until now, it has been 23 years of touching hems. Through the apprenticeship of my brilliantly talented Japanese seamstress teacher, Ms. Emi, I learned how to stitch a hem with confidence: fold, narrow, blind, run, back, top, blanket, zig-zag, bead, sequin, whip, baste, and I’m sure there are many more. I remember her telling me how important it was to use my fingertips, to really get to know the feel of the garment between them. To use an iron to guide the measurement to a uniformity that would stay even before a stitch was thread into the fabric. She showed me how to pull thread between the hairs on my scalp, back and forth, back and forth, so it’d be covered in oils and wouldn’t knot when it was pushed and pulled through a course fabric.
Hems are soothing to me. I accept alterations orders from customers not just to help them and to earn a bit of income, but also to stay dedicated to the craft and what it has taught me over the years: perseverance, frustration, joy, peace, excitement. A wedding dress’ creamy layers between my chipped nailed fingertips; Course wool being fed under the wide foot of the machine and watching the needle take deep bites into it; Pulling the hem from the machine’s arm in satisfaction that the girl soon to wear the hem will feel beautiful, confident, and assured it is tailored just to her. Nearly every time I hold a hem I think of Ms. Emi and how she always quoted the Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, as she was teaching me to sew, “‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’ I teach you because I want you to know for always,” she’d say. She was right, 23 years later, I am still sewing thanks to her.
Cody is four and he still loves the blanket his grandma made him before he was even born. Its squares colorfully wearing with the love he is so dedicated to show them. I often hold the bright blue corners in my hands and play with the hand stitched blanketed corners. Their silk protecting the raw edges of the quilted squares. It is the same thing I did to my blanket as a child, the hem bringing an undeniable peace.
These habits of hem holding have recently given me pause. I have been thinking about those behind them, Ms. Emi, the kids’ Grandma most notably, but also the sick woman in Luke 8 and Matthew 9. She couldn’t be healed by anyone. No physician, magician, claimed miracle-man, could stop the debilitating loss of blood, of life, from pouring form her. Yet she knew that if she just touched the hem of the one walking in her very streets, the ones she agonized in from doctor to doctor, she knew she’d be healed. Verses 20-22 in Matthew 9 say:
And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.
Word got out of these miracles Jesus so willingly and faithfully gave to his people that they would follow him, chasing the hem of his robe in hopes he’d heal their sick. “And as many as touched the hem were made well.”*
I love these stories! Just the faithful willingness to come to the hem of Him who is all powerful and mighty. One doesn’t even have to know how to fold it, stitch it, measure it. He or she just has to touch it. Hold it between their fingers, feel its peace like a loving quilt tailor made and their faith in Him will bring healing.
Later in the book of Matthew, Jesus talks to the scribes and Pharisees, the teachers who should see that God in flesh is among them and yet they constantly deny Him. He said, “They preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.”
Did you catch that? “They themselves are not willing to move them with their finger…their fringes are long.” The fringe of a garment is an adornment, an accessory. In is often a symbol of something greater, typically attached to the hem. Centuries before Jesus said these words to the religious teachers God had spoken to Moses and instructed the people,
…to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.**
Centuries later, the teachers still adorned with tassels, did nothing of the sort to hold up God’s commands. Quite the contrary, they used the hem of their garments to show their own false greatness. They pursued their own hems rather than the hem of Christ who was right before them.
I found the kids sitting in the boys’ room the other day. Curled in their Grandma quilts with books in their laps. As I stepped closer not trying to bother what was quietly keeping their attention. I noticed the books in their laps were their Bibles. Cody was flipping from story picture to story picture quietly recounting the subjects within, “That’s Cain, that’s Abel… that was a sad story… That’s the Tower of Babel, sad too… Noah, he obeyed, that was good…Oh and there’s my Jesus.” He stayed on the page looking at some story of the New Testament, lovingly holding the pages between his fingertips. Yes, I thought to myself, yes baby boy, hold that hem and never let go, your faith will make you well.