Monday, October 27, 2014

Dwelling on Sin Versus Reclaiming the Weeds

I’ve been learning a lot about shame these past few months—mostly that shame and sin are often so intertwined, it’s difficult to peel apart and define the two beasts. This may seem obvious on the surface, but I promise you shame is more engrained in our culture and in our personal lives than we would ever want to admit. I’ve noticed the subtle knocking of shame, how it invites itself into the many layers of our lives, how it surrounds brokenness, even when we dwell on sin that has grieved us in the past.

As Christians, we’re uncomfortable with dwelling on sin because we don’t want to throw a pity party, right? I’m especially thinking on past sin (sin that grieves us or sin we commit). What good can come from reflecting on pain and sin? For some reason, many Christians believe that regeneration should take away the effects of sin—either quickly or permanently—when in reality, there are thorns; there are weeds.

Dr. Dan B. Allender, author of The Wounded Heart, spoke into that dark place in my heart that was afraid to admit that some things still hurt—even through the work of the Holy Spirit. 

“Facing the reality of the Fall and beginning the process of reclaiming the land covered with weeds is the marvelous work of the God-ordained Kingdom gardener. It is labor eminently worthy of every believer to reclaim the parts of one’s soul that remain untilled and unproductive for bearing fruit. And the denial of the past hinders this work of reclamation.”

These words draw something out of me; they cause something to leap out of my heart: something unrecognizable . . . something emerging that is fragile but beautiful. It’s strange to feel this sort of tapping at my heart, to experience or outline God’s vague finger print on my life.

We experience many trials in this Christian life, and we are all suffering in one way or another—whether it’s illness, financial burdens, the loss of a loved one, being enslaved to something that is slowly chipping away at us, fear. . . . The different kinds of suffering are endless because we live in a broken, fallen world. And I don’t dwell on this to be morbid, I dig it up to remember that denial is not “putting it behind me” as a follower of Christ. As Dr. Allender puts it, “‘Where was God?’ is a legitimate cry of the soul to understand what it means to trust God. Irrespective of the answers, the question is not to be avoided. If God is trustworthy, He can be trusted without our efforts to distort or deny the past.”

Often when we think of sin and how Jesus washed us white as snow, we cheapen forgiveness with the “forgive and forget” mentality. But forgetting—hiding the past—always involves denial, and “denial of the past is always denial of God. To forget your personal history is tantamount to trying to forget yourself and the journey that God has called you to live.” Yes, we are new creations in Christ, and no, sin does not have a hold on us, and praise be to God for this truth. But living with the effects of sin is a reality in a broken world, and sometimes we have to sit in the weeds. It often feels like I am juggling those dark areas of my soul that are full of weeds—the suffering—along with the joyful, fruitful parts. It’s uncomfortable to sit and wait, to struggle; it seems idiotic to be vulnerable enough to explore the deepest damage. Yet Dr. Allender warns those experiencing shame that the “first great enemy to lasting change is the propensity to turn our eyes away from the wound and pretend things are fine,” adding that “the work of restoration cannot begin until a problem is fully faced.”

Our culture tells us to avoid the wounded heart—to create a little fence around it and to never assess the damage. But there is something freeing in Dr. Allender’s words. If we admit without shame that regeneration does not remove the effects of sin, we are free to face the damage without feeling like we are denying the gospel. We let Christ enter in! Our fragile, wounded hearts are safe in his hands, and better yet, we can trust that this good news is in fact true.

Last night, I sat with some friends and talked about a miraculous encounter in the Bible: when Mary Magdalene first witnesses the risen Jesus. It seems ludicrous that someone so close to Jesus—someone who adored him and called him teacher—wouldn’t recognize the resurrection. It is only until Jesus says, “Mary,” that she believes (becoming the first ever Christian witness) that he in fact rose from the dead.

Why doesn’t she expect it? Jesus mentioned to his friends several times that he would conquer death. Tim Keller in Encountering Jesus suggests that Mary, like all of us at some point, was looking for the wrong Jesus. For a dead Jesus. But “He comes to her, gently works to open her heart. . . .” And that is why it is okay to sit in the weeds. We can inspect the damage and own our story because Jesus redeems it. He is alive and he gently calls our name, even in our grief.  And do you know what Mary does in the presence of the risen savior? She cries out, “Teacher!” and tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” Keller compares Mary’s conversion story—of hearing her own name on the lips of the risen Christ—with the words of Annie Dillard when she wrote, “I’d been my whole life a bell, but I never knew it until I was lifted up and rung.” And so my call for you, dear reader, is to lift the shroud of shame, as Dr. Allender urges, and to peer deeply into the wounded heart—knowing that Jesus is alive, knowing that he is enough. 

Monday, August 25, 2014


A snapshot of the brewing storm, taken by my lovely sis-in-law, Lydia Grace.

We are huddled on the condo porch overlooking the ocean and sky and everything in between. My skin is pink from the sun and my face hot from rubbing sunscreen under my eyes, which are also pink from splashing into chlorine, like the thin rim of watermelon. When I plummet into the clear glass water, I am breaking something, spilling out; I am calm and rememberingperhaps nothing worth retelling, but a kind of rebirth that sounds like a million little hands clapping under water. I hear the popping sound; I squint and swim downward from the center of my belly. Deflating, I push off the slippery bottom to the surface of this sun-filtered water, this sun-drenched honey, just as a writhing fish pops on the lineshimmering coins in the sun. 

And now I am here with them, rubbing my pink eyes. Some of us standing, some of us sitting, all of us listening tobaffled bywhat should never escape us: the glory of God, the power of his mighty hand, cutting through a summer storm. 

Summer storms at the beach are ghosts that demand to be reckoned with; but this one is different. I could hum on about the way it shakes usthe fear that bubbles up when we remember just how human we are, the gushing sheets of rain that rip through the dark, billowing on rooftops and pavement, setting the street lamps on fire, as if each pelt against metal sparks and erupts: a fireworks display. I could recount how the music is sweet, how we are peeling back the edges of sky and ocean with each bolt that lights up our view, as if I would need to, when God himself is composing the flash of a photograph, reminding us where the tide and black blanket sky divide. But my words are short-lived, like the jellyfish in the sand, like the popping in my ears, the quiet pounding of feet on wet tile. We are listening to Simon and Garfunkel, the words homeward bound crackling in our ears, and that's when we know that it is all true and beautiful. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mud and Water: A Two-Part Look at Praying Confidently

Leave it to good old John Calvin to point me to Scripture that convicts and stirs my soul. This morning, in 365 Days With Calvin, I am uncomfortably aware of my need to repent, yet again, of my critical spirit. But to understand my messed up heart, you have to enter into two thoughts I have about today's devotion and how they both unravel me. 

1. Asking While Abiding: Praying Confidently

John 15:7 states, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." In my spiritual walk, you could say that these words have taken on new meaning at different phases of my life. Just as the leaves whither, change colors, fall and grow again, these words take root in my life and their weight changes when I am raw or when my heart is hardened. 

The "slot machine" God

I confess that as a new Christian -- and sometimes, even now -- I interpreted these words to mean that he is some sort of "slot machine" God, because why not? He said whatever I ask is mine, right? I suspect this tension exists for many Christians in this instant-gratification-seeking, materialistic, always-wanting-the-next-best-thing American culture. But these words do not become heavier when I want material things or when I am charmed by this life: I attach complicated feelings to these words when I want my way because it seems noble or perhaps aligned with the gospel. Sometimes, the things I ask of a slot machine God are not entirely selfish -- sometimes I want to heal the sick, a more stable future for my husband or my family, an outward solution to a stressful situation. That's when Calvin's words regarding John 15:7 are hard to swallow. Scripture tells us that, whatever those who are in Christ may need, there is a remedy provided for their poverty as soon as they ask it from God. He points out that this a very useful admonition, for the Lord often suffers us to hunger to train us to be earnest in prayer. But if we fly to him, we shall never lack what we ask for; rather, out of his inexhaustible abundance, he will supply us with everything that we need (1 Cor. 1:5). 

The sap of the Holy Spirit

Here's where it gets tricky: When he promises that he will grant whatever we wish, he does not give us permission to form wishes according to -- as Calvin puts it -- "our own fancy". He limits the wishes of his people to the rule of praying in a right manner, and that rule is subject to the good pleasure of God in all our affections. Calvin adds, "This is confirmation by the context in which the words stand; for he means that his people will or desire not riches, or honor, or anything of that nature, which the flesh foolishly desires, but the vital sap of the Holy Spirit, which enables them to bear fruit." 

I love this perspective of the "sap of the Holy Spirit," because -- if I'm being honest here -- I do not always desire the sap that enables fruit. I want the fruit, and I want what I think is fruit in my life. Calvin reminds us that a Christian's prayer should ultimately be that God's will be done. Any petition that deviates from God's will is not appropriate. But what is God's will? He notes that the answer is found in these words: "If my words abide in you." With God's Word as our guide, we may pray in confidence, knowing that "it shall be done unto us." In saying, "If my words abide in you," Christ means that we must take root in him by faith; for as soon as we depart from the doctrine of the gospel, we seek Christ separately from himself. 

The fine line

For me, there's a lot to reconcile here. Asking while abiding is such a fine line, and I tend to teeter on both sides: Placing my confidence in the slot machine God, expecting earthly blessings or him to give me what I deem as fruit; or placing my confidence in another contorted image of God -- the idea that earnest  prayer is insufficient and unnecessary, because why would the Creator of the universe care enough about my petty problems? What a lie! We often buy into this lie during the most trying times, wondering how a loving God could allow so much pain. I am not going to pretend to know all the answers here, but I do know that God delights in his children, and he cares deeply for the details of our lives. "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26) 

2. Be the Doer, Not the Judge

I don't think it's a coincidence that the call in Matthew 6 to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness is linked to the words do not be anxious. I also don't think it's a coincidence that following Matthew 6 is a passage on judging others. I don't know what it is about anxiety and grasping onto this illusion of control, but there is some innate part of me as an anxious person that desperately tries to be a little god. Anxiety likes to sit on the throne of my heart and say, "I'm king here." It likes to say, "I'm in control." And guess what happens when you think you're in control of your own life? You become more than a little god -- you become a judge. Ta-da! Introducing my critical spirit. In Calvin's devotion this morning on asking while abiding, it is no surprise that the suggested further reading is James 4: a warning against worldliness and boasting about tomorrow. 


The Greek word for devil means slanderer. Therefore, it's no surprise that his Word warns us: "Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?" (James 4:11-12)

Confession: I'm a judge

This passage truly wrecked me this morning. So often, in my unhealthy, anxiety-ridden state, I try to be a judge in my own life and others. My self-critical nature begins to seep out into my relationships, and suddenly I find myself being critical and judgmental of other people -- especially my brothers and sisters in Christ. I heard a man say that sometimes recognizing gossip is simply this: when you point out another person's sin in his or her absence. Sometimes, I confuse righteous anger with being a judge and not a doer of the law, which results in slandering other Christians and destroying fellowship. When I speak falsely against a fellow believer, I speak not only against the person but against the law of God. As a slanderer, I set myself above the law. . . and this is not okay. I want to bless and not curse; I want to repent. I see my critical spirit becoming a stronghold yet again in my life, and I hope that by posting these words I can remember to desire the sap of the Holy Spirit, which enables fruit and cuts off bitterness. 

I hope these words encourage you. They may seem harsh, but James 4 tells us to "Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." True repentance is found in a broken and contrite heart. There is a time for mourning and a time for laughter. If you find yourself moved by Calvin's message as I did, I hope you will reflect on the hope of Christ and dwell on how our Father refines us. We must let his Word abide in us, together -- and without destructive, critical words to one another. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Making it [life] count

Everything new blossoms in summer; we renew old aspirations, embrace new ideas and hobbies, and try to make room for what's coming -- which for us, in Florida, pretty much consists of sweaty walks to the farmer's market, afternoon rain storms, and travel plans. I have an ever growing TBR list and Aaron's fiddling with the mandolin; we are experimenting with fun new cocktail drinks and summer pasta salads. Despite the heat, I want summer to be a time for exploration and returning to a place of peace and curiosity. 

I find myself caught between two (strong) emotions: fear of plunging into the unknown -- which truly is just around the corner -- and excitement for all of the changes and growth, particularly entrepreneurial growth. When I was dreaming up my freelance business last year, I knew there was so much to learn and do. It's overwhelming at times, but I'm learning to stop and appreciate each little moment as it comes, no matter how terrifying it can seem at first. I still feel like a middle schooler with a serious crush when I get editing inquiries: nervous butterflies in the best way. And when it all feels like too much, I stop, take a deep breath, and remember to cry out, God, come get me. 

On my mental health journey these past few months, I finally discovered a name for one of the monsters I've been battling: Anxiety. The anxiety I struggle with reveals so much about my heart. I understand my need for emotional boundaries to protect my own health and Aaron's health, and my need to stop grasping after this illusion of control. There's still a lot I need to dive into on this road to healing and freedom, and unfortunately, naming my anxiety doesn't make it go away. Some days I'm convinced I have all the answers I'll ever need, and other days I'm slapped in the face with the reality that my mental health story isn't about finding solutions as much as it is about going through the process and grieving or dealing with certain things along the way; my journey has more to do with allowing myself to sit in this space and becoming self-aware. 

If I had known I would be thinking this way or writing these words about "healing" and "self-actualization" a few months ago, I probably would have responded with cynicism. It's not that I necessarily bought into the negative stigma of mental illness, but I can be very self-critical and, admittedly, it all seemed kind of hoax-y on the surface.  I think that's partly why God put us where we are now, in Orlando, surrounded by all of these awesome RTS students and counselors. The things I've learned from people here -- about myself, family, and community -- are things I will never forget.

That said, right now, I'm in the business of making life count. I'm tired of anxiety owning me, of fearing what's around the corner. Sure, a lot of what I feel on a day to day basis is a healthy dose of nervousness mixed with excitement and feeling my way through the dark; but it's time to start enjoying moments in life. I don't want to be absent all the time because I'm consumed with work or thoughts about the future. So here's what I plan to focus on this summer -- a challenge, really -- to be present and generally enjoy life more:

Reading (Together): I already mentioned my personal TBR list is growing, but what I'm most excited about as a reader is the nerdiness of reading with Aaron. Gah. I know, it's so geeky, but I don't care. We decided to tackle a series together, and I'm going to go ahead and say it: It's probably going to be The Lord of the Rings. Go ahead and judge me, but Aaron reading to me? It's dreamy, folks. DREAMY. I'm so looking forward to putting our phones away and getting lost in a good book together. We're already such an old couple; the next thing you know, I'll be telling you we like to play board games together (I mean . . .  because we totally don't like board games or anything. . . . ahem.)

Limiting screen-time: This goal totally ties in to the first on my list, but I am convinced that getting away from the computer, phone, and T.V. screens will help me to be present, especially in the evenings. When I am intentional about this, it totally frees up my time for reading, cooking, or spending quality time with A or friends. It's so hard to get me away from the screen, but once I unplug, it feels amazing. I already deactivated my Facebook and guess what? It helped me take that busy feeling down a notch. 

Repeating my new biz motto: Lately, my biggest temptation to be absent throughout my day/evenings is being consumed or overwhelmed by client-relationships and freelance projects. I'm constantly learning and there's always more I feel like I should be doing. That anxiety perpetuates, and I've realized I don't actually relax, even when I think I'm relaxing, because my mind is elsewhere. If I want to have a healthy work and life balance, this has to end. For me, the best approach to nip this in the bud is to adopt confidence and genuine enthusiasm for new editing projects. 

Most of you know I live in Winter Park, home of the beloved Rifle Paper Company. I watched a talk on Creative Mornings featuring Anna Rifle Bond, the creative director and co-owner of Rifle, on how the husband-and-wife duo started their stationary business. Something she said really resonated with me: They never said no to an opportunity. "One of Nathan's biggest things is never say that we're not ready," she said. Anna admitted that this motto often put them in tricky situations, but that ultimately it was worth it. 

Rather than freaking out about new things in my own business, I find myself repeating something Aaron said to me lately: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." I want to leave the work anxiety behind and remember that there's no harm in striving after something, even if you fail. In a similar vein, when confronted with challenges in my personal life, my counselor recently reminded me of a quote by G.K. Chesterton: "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." Now, I can't completely translate this particular advice to my professional life because I do want to uphold a standard of excellence as a freelancer, but Aaron's sentiment of what do you have to lose? is a push toward optimism and chasing worthwhile efforts.If it matters to me, it's worth pursuing. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take!

Drink coffee with two hands: One of my favorite bloggers (who happens to be a fabulous foster mama) recently directed me toward another blogger's challenge to "drink coffee with two hands." The idea is simple: when we drink coffee with two hands, we slow down and savor the moment more. (Just another reason why coffee saves lives here, people.) We reflect; we take the time to talk and think about what's going on around us. What a wonderful challenge to be intentional in the every day, small moments!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Gifts to Remember

Today I am reflecting on the gifts of forgiveness and repentance. It's easy to live in a state of frustration because of the tension that inevitably exists for redeemed, yet sinful people pursuing godliness in a broken world. We know that our best attempts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6); that we will not measure up; that we miss the mark, that we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way (Isaiah 53:6). And yet we still have this glorious calling -- we are still adopted into the family of God and we are still encouraged to pursue godliness.
"Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." (1 Timothy 4:7-10 ESV) 
"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted us to his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed for his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure. . ." (2 Peter 1:3-10 ESV)
 Ever since my college days, my friends and I have always insisted that with every good thing in life there is a fine line. Striving to make your calling and election sure can quickly lead to legalism; living in freedom and the knowledge that Christ lived the perfect life so we didn't have to can quickly lead to laziness. This past Sunday, someone told me, "the doctrine of election is not a doctrine for slackers." This same person also told me that at its core, "worship is nothing more than sanctified remembering." We are called to remember our forgiveness in Christ because it stirs our hearts -- not toward a life of legalism, but a life of true heart transformation.

Whenever I think about living in this tension, I remember John's words: "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One" (1 John 2:1). John understood that forgiveness does not dismiss our calling to obey the commands of God or to use our election as a license to sin, but to remember the "perfected" love of God. We must respond with a life of obedience. And when we sin (and John knows that we will, because we are still sinners), we must remember that Christ is our advocate. The Greek word for advocate is parakletos, a "helper," such as an attorney in a legal matter. When I read this passage in 1 John, I picture Jesus in a court room, standing on my behalf. We fall short of the glory of God. Every day. But we should not live in shame or dwell on the weight of our sin, just as we should not abandon our first love and forget the costly blood of Christ! We must dwell on the weight of his glory.

As forgiven people, washed by the blood of Christ, we can walk freely and know -- in communion and love -- that he regenerates us by his Spirit. John Calvin wrote on the gifts of forgiveness and repentance, urging us to remember that repentance is just as much the gift of God as inheriting the heavenly kingdom. "As God freely pardons our sins and delivers us by his mercy from the condemnation of eternal death, so he also conforms us to his image so that we may live unto righteousness." He continues to point out that "As God freely adopts us as his children, so he regenerates us by his Spirit in order that our life may testify that we do not falsely address him as our Father. In like manner, Christ washes away our sins by his blood and reconciles our heavenly Father to us by the sacrifice of his death. . . . The sum of the gospel here is that God through his Son takes away our sins and admits us to fellowship with him, so that we, in denying ourselves and our own nature, may 'live soberly, righteously, and godly.'" Forgiveness and repentance are to be distinguished but never separated. 

Today, I am in awe of Christ, who laid aside his crown for my soul, and for a God who does not leave anything up to me. Even repentance is a gift from him; by remembering what Christ has done, he stirs our hearts toward repentance. 

  1. Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
  1. Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
  1. Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
  1. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
  1. That were a present far too small;
  1. Love so amazing, so divine,
  1. Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Short and Simple

Sometimes I think the only way to escape that stagnant feeling in life is to hang on to old words or songs that grip you -- I mean really, fiercely grip you. During those busy seasons, it's terrifyingly easy to drudge through it all on autopilot, moving through the motions to pay your bills on time, stick to the plan, buy the right groceries, or live for that perfect weekend and moments of luxury in the midst of the mundane. 

Some days we want it all and some days we want to let it all cave in and live unconventionally, but most of the time the driving force that propels us forward are kind words, surprising reactions to the raw truth, solitude and God's word coming alive on the page or from the mouth of a stranger in a room full of people . . . . however we experience it, there are little bits of life that wake us up. One of the reasons I love blogging is because I can go back and look at my mind wanderings and my fears . . . my moments of despair and my moments of great joy. 

I see beginnings and endings on the page, I reimagine conversations that -- for whatever reason -- struck a chord with me or mornings that made everything new. I love looking back on the start of this blog three years ago and reading about how we made room for Zoey, the silly hound dog we were so nervous to invite into our family; the quiet moments I dreamed up as a barista; the day my life was turned upside down with the possibility of a move to Houston; the promises we make to each other and the promises I make to myself; the hard days and the joyful ones; the waiting days and the welcoming homethe stories we tell ourselves; the confessions of fear; the hunger for vulnerability; the soft spots and the funny, imperfect pieces of this life . . . . I could go on and on. No matter what I am facing, there are little words that I whisper (or shout) that are made for my current season of life.

Right now, my words are short and simple:

God, come get me. 

Hearing these words -- really hearing them -- brings joy and promise. It's time to let go of the illusion of control that I have, and it's okay not to know all of the answers. 

I'm also listening to this song and writing the words on my heart:


The cut is deep, but never deep enough for me
It doesn't hurt enough to make me forget
One moment of relief is never long enough
To keep the voices in my head
From stealing my peace

Oh, control
It's time, time to let you go

Perfection has a price
But I cannot afford to live that life
It always ends the same; a fight I never win
Oh, control, 
It's time, time to let you go

I'm letting go of the illusion 
I'm letting go of the confusion
I can't carry it another step
I close my eyes and take a breath
I'm letting go, letting go

There were scars before my scars
Love written ont he hands that hung the stars
Hope living in the blood that was spilled for me

oh control, 
It's time, time to let you go
It's time, time to let you go

Monday, May 26, 2014

Making the Dream: Sarah of 'Les Petites Mains'

all photos via Sarah from Les petites mains

It's been a while, but I am finally featuring another talented creator who is "making the dream." This drawn out series started with a desire to explore the histories and goals of those who are making their dreams through handmade goods and crafts. I became interested in seeking out artisans, creative entrepreneurs,and makers -- all to share more about their creative process and to inspire other aspiring makers.

One thing I've learned during this new series is that makers and creative small biz owners are busy, busy, busy . . . and that makes it really difficult to put the spotlight on them; they are always behind the scenes, creating. I love capturing different artisans fulfilling their creative, imaginative goals! 

I discovered Sarah's Etsy shop, "Les petites mains" while living in Houston -- where I was a professional day dreamer. :) I was beginning to learn how to sew, and I was fascinated by the handmade dolls niche and the detail that went into every creation. Because so many goods are manufactured in today's modern world, people tend to take many things for granted, especially products like dolls and toys. That's why I wanted to bring light to Sarah's shop. 

On her About page, Sarah mentions that her shop started with a desire to "slow the world we are living in." She needed to rediscover the pleasure of working with her hands at her own pace. Sarah has a passion for textiles and loves diving in to the richness and authenticity of colorful fabrics. "I decided to create beautiful, poetic objects for adults and children, to make them dream, play, and use their imagination," she writes.

It was a pleasure to tap into Sarah's creative process and learn more about how her business started. I'm humbled that she took the time to answer some of my questions; Sarah is French, so she really went the distance to make this happen. :) Thanks, Sarah! So, without further ado: Meet Sarah of Les petites mains!


1. How did you develop an interest in doll making, and how did your business come about?

I’ve always sewn; my mother started me at a young age. I think it really started when my cousin had her baby, a little boy named Paco.  He was one of the first babies around me and I wanted to spoil him. I’ve looked around on the Internet and saw the creativity and the craze around handmade toys. It fascinated me.  The little girl in me got me into making dolls, one [process] that I would have liked as a kid but with my new vision as a young woman. I loved the format, as I have a small workshop and a real obsession with fabrics; I keep a lot of them without being able to stop! I search for the prettiest, the softest, the richest…so dolls are ideal because I can use a whole variety without even doing the same thing twice.  

2. On your Etsy page you mention your passion for textiles: the fabrics, colors, softness, authenticity, richness…. Can you tell us a little more about that? Where do you draw your inspiration behind your materials and creations?

Here again, I believe my mom has a lot to do with it. When we go out together, we don’t shop for clothes, but for textiles…. I have been raised to touch, admire and appreciate the richest textiles, the natural fibers.  In my professional life, I am a make-up artist, so you can see that in all aspects of my life, the harmony of colors and textures are essential to me.

My inspiration comes from the textile itself, the ribbons or other materials that I find. I mix them up; I get creative. I do look at blogs and pictures of children’s fashion. Certain details, a cut, or even some accessories on my dolls inspire me.

3. Can you talk a little bit about your creative process and your workspace? What is a typical day like for you?

There was a time when I only did the bodies of the dolls: I trace, cut, sew, and pad them all. This period isn’t the most creative and can be a little bit repetitive, but it lets me imagine and draw what I will do next.  I draw a lot, some quick sketches. I often imagine some series of 4 to 5 dolls who will work well together, in harmony under some theme, like a season, a color, or a motif.  And then comes the time when I give them a color, a style and a soul! I like to think that I’m making a gift for a special person everytime.

My workplace is very small, in my own home, so I need to be very organised and clean. I am lucky to have very good natural light throughout the day, which is essential for my morale and for the pictures after the whole process J. I accumulate a lot of cute baskets, pincushions, and some small vintage luggages. I take a lot of time to make my workshop pretty and a nice place to live.

An ideal day for me is a day when I have nothing else to do except sew and create. It’s a luxury when this happens, when I have some time on my hands and I can create. I feel like everything is possible.

Another thing I appreciate is that I work alone, which is for me another luxury. I can choose what I create; I can start doing some blankets if I want to, than go back to my dolls. For example, these days, I do a lot of small dolls because I have tons of ideas for this format, but I will get back to the other size later. I have so many ideas; there is not limit! 

4. What are some of the rewards and challenges of owning your own shop?

I believe that I am very lucky to own my shop. I can sell my creations and deliver some love for unique objects, handmade toys, all over the world.

We are drowning in industrial objects, without any soul, and they are all looking alike and made in questionable industries.  Even though we know all of this, we have to remember the good sides of technology, like the Internet, and how it allows people to choose some handmade products, all over the world! I feel like an old lady saying this, but none the less, it’s magic! In a past not so far behind, this wasn’t possible!

We could imagine that selling on the Internet is a little bit sterile and lacking in human contact, but I am very surprised to see the support and the gratification that I receive from my clients.  I think that the fact that my dolls are handmade automatically brings that closeness, even on the Internet.

Of course, there are some challenges: fixing prices, managing my expenses, being organised, thinking of all the aspects of my business. My biggest challenge would be finding the time, because handmade is time consuming, so you have to love what you are doing without counting the time that you put into it, like we do in these modern days! 

5. Any advice for aspiring business owners or anyone interested in selling their handmade creations?

Me, I really wanted to have everything perfect before opening my business, I wanted to control and anticipate everything.  It’s a good thing to be a perfectionnist and be well organised but with this experience, what I have learned it that you need to be accept freedom and creativity and you can’t control it. You need to have some freedom to create and sometimes, it takes a different way than what you were planning. It’s fun to see yourself grow.  There is risk when you create objects : you tend to start thinking like a businessman. We want to be profitable, efficient, strategic… It’s our world today who impose that stress on us and it’s important to stay focus on the essential : having fun while making something, on our own rythm. That’s what handmade is : the fun, slow and quality process which is impose by our hands J. That does not mean giving away our creations. If we want to offer quality materials, quality work and respect our time schedule, the prices need to be proportional.  

One last thing, it’s true that you need a good dose of passion to put all these hours creating, but you need to take some time to go out, take a break, and close the door to the workshop so you can come back later. If you don’t, there is a chance that you can lose the passion and that is exhausting! It all depends on your personality. When you know your limits, you need to work around it and it’s like that around your life! It’s a balancing act!

6. What do you want people to ultimately take away from your beautiful dolls and unique process?

I do hope that my dolls are like a personal therapy against stress and the urgency of our world. Every doll I make requires some time and meticulousness, and it reminds me that I need to take things slow. I remind myself every time that the doll is not for me and it will be received or given to a person somewhere in the world and I find myself lucky to have that chance. I put in some extra care so that it shows in my final product; and I send some joy, some beauty and a whole lot of imagination. It’s an exchange between the maker and the receiver, a wonderful exchange! 


Et Voila! Thank you again, Sarah, for your dedication to the craft and for sharing your dreams with us! Friends, hop on over to Les petites mains and fall in love.