It’s a potholder. It’s a simple off-white potholder with a basic cross-stitch pattern on it. It is stained, burned, and torn. Like many cross-stitched pieces, it has the initials of the person who made it, only the thread has been partly pulled out so it appears to say “I G ‘98.” It should say “KG ‘98” because I made this “piece of art” for my mom as a gift when I was 26 years old. I don’t remember the occasion… perhaps her birthday or Christmas. But I do remember that she hung it on a small hook to display it in her kitchen. She never used it. Back then, I thought of this as a sign that this item was special. She didn’t want to stain or damage it. Instead, she displayed it.
As dementia began to affect mom’s independence, and eventually she had to move for more supervision and safety, my brother and I shared her personal items among us. We passed along or donated what neither of us could use or felt sentimental to save, but each of us had items with special memories that we held on to. I brought home this potholder that I had made for mom years before.
That’s when I realized, “This has never been used.” I made this potholder and it became wall art. It hasn’t served its purpose. So I tossed it in my kitchen drawer and began to use it frequently. It didn’t take long to become the ragged piece that you see in the attached photo. There’s a part of me that regrets that I have defaced and nearly destroyed this item. And then I remember… this is a potholder. It’s purpose is to be used in the kitchen to protect hands, countertops, and even the antique wooden table that I inherited from mom’s parents/grandparents. If I had not used the potholder and merely preserved it in a box of keepsakes, someday my children or grandchildren would likely be tossing it in the trash or the Goodwill bin. By using it, yes I’m only getting to enjoy it for a finite time, BUT every single time I take it from the drawer, I smile. I remember mom’s great cooking. I remember my desire to give her a special handmade gift. I feel connected.
This week I attended the funeral of a 23 year old woman. She was amazing in every way, excelling in academics, immersed in service to others, and surrounded by friends and much love & laughter. Her death (from unexpected and sudden medical complications) hit many in my community very hard. But in spite of the deep grief, everyone who knew her has a story about her. Everyone has a tale that will make you gasp or laugh or shake your head in disbelief. This young adult only lived for 23 years, but oh, how she lived!
All of us know that our days on earth are numbered, but living with a lingering dementia diagnosis can be especially depressing and debilitating. But this week, on the same day that I attended the funeral of this amazing young adult, I also pulled the stained and torn potholder from my kitchen drawer as I moved a hot pan from the oven. And I smiled. The potholder is being used for the purpose it was created for. I thought of the young woman who had died too young… her life was far shorter than we expected, but it was full of amazing accomplishments and deep relationships.
The warmth I was feeling was a powerful reminder, “Am I living what I was created to do and to be?” Do I look like a perfect unstained, immaculate piece of art on a wall OR am I torn, burnt, and stained but clearly living with a purpose? None of us can predict or know how many years we have on earth or how many years we have while our minds or bodies are functioning at their best. What we do have control over is how we live during the years that we are able to make decisions or take actions.
Live well, friends. Encourage one another. Prioritize the things that really matter. Don’t worry about your stains and tears. Be who you were created to be. Good intentions tell us to hang the potholder on the wall and never “mess it up.” But even if you preserve it carefully, its days are numbered. So when it comes to your own life… use it, enjoy it, treasure it! Be like my potholder… Discover your gifts and purpose and live into them! That’s what it’s all about.