“What about the zoo? I’ve been, it’s fun! You can feed the giraffes!”
“We went to the zoo last year, Miss. We should go somewhere different.”
It was nearly time for recess, and my third grade class was discussing where we might go on our field trip. Not being from Guadalajara (or even Mexico) myself, I needed a few ideas.
“Miss, we could go to the chocolate fabric. There is one near here somewhere, the first graders went last year.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“The chocolate fabric. It’s Nestle, I think. Somewhere near here.”
“The chocolate fabric.”
“Yes. They have field trips there all the time.”
“What is a chocolate fabric?”
“Where they make the chocolate. You get to eat some too. My sister went last year.”
“Honey, what do you think fabric means?”
“A fabric is a place where you turn something into something else. Where you make new things. In Spanish it’s ‘fábrica’.”
“Oh, you mean a factory! Yes, we could go to the chocolate factory. A fabric is what your clothes are made of, though. So I was confused.”
We laughed and the boys skipped off to recess. I shook my head- we were constantly running into translation issues as these little ones tried to navigate life in two languages. This was just another one for the books.
A place where you turn something into something else.
He’s not entirely wrong, I thought to myself.
I’m back in the US this year, teaching little English learners here. It’s nearly the end of the school year, and I’m looking forward to the rest. I throw on a new pair of jeans, with “slimming seams”. This is a thing, evidently, where they position the seams in some way to make your legs appear thinner. Mostly I think it just looks like I’ve got my pants on slightly crooked, but what do I know.
I grab a plain black t-shirt and my favorite green scarf to dress it up. I’d wear my purple cardigan, but it’s ripping at the shoulder, so I settle for grey instead. My hair goes up into a wispy bun and my tiny hoop earrings get thrust into my ears as I grab my keys and search for some black flats.
I catch a quick glance in the mirror and decide I’m good enough. Not too flashy, not too plain, not too colorful or bland. I was once told that you should dress for a job interview in such a way that your clothes are entirely unmemorable: appropriate, but not exciting. It is now the standard by which I measure all of my outfits.
But it is a problem for me.
I love bright colors and loud patterns. I have a pair of yellow polka dotted chucks that I bought years ago but have worn only a handful of times. My car is orange and my phone is hot pink and my voice is loud and fast. I once instituted a tradition of “Fun Pants Friday” at a summer camp I worked at, because I have enough pairs of fun pants to wear a different pair every week.
But I am afraid of being too much.
I’ve learned to dress myself in blacks and grays, to pull my hair up, to keep my voice down.
If fabric is a place where you turn something into something else, I have layers of fabric wrapped around myself so tightly I fear whatever is left of me underneath must have suffocated long ago.
I have come to believe that God is in the business of turning something into something else, in the fabric business, if you will. It’s the only hope we’ve got, really, that everything sad will come untrue, that this bright, beautiful, broken world will be reclothed in splendor we can’t even imagine.
I know this about the world around me, that God is in the good work of restoring lives and homes and creation. I see His handiwork in joyful mornings and hopeful dusks, in mending what is broken and clothing what is bare.
Somehow, though, I don’t know this about myself. While the fingerprints of God in the world around me seem to make everything come alive with color and light, when I present myself to God, I want to clothe myself in grays and blacks, bow my head and stoop my shoulders.
The God who started the narrative of the whole universe with, “Let there be light!” could not possibly have desired for me to wrap myself in quiet and darkness.
My eyes land on the yellow shoes. Why not? I whisper as I slip my feet in.
Perhaps I’m still breathing under there after all. And perhaps embracing the bright, loud, hidden parts of me is Kingdom work, too.
The place where something becomes something else.
Photo by Sharon Drummond, via flickr.