My mother was a gifted seamstress. She earned her B.A. in Home Economics at Iowa State University in the 1940’s. But you won’t find Helen McTigue Tierney’s design label anywhere because she poured all her gifts and talents into caring for her family of ten. There was my mom and dad, six daughters, and two sons. I am the youngest of the Tierney children.


One of my strongest childhood memories is of my mom sewing—often into the wee hours of night—working on whatever was needed at the time. Her old Singer sewing machine wasn’t fancy like the machines available today, but it was her creativity, diligence, and joy to clothe her family in one-of-a-kind couture. Among my favorites were the Easter dresses with matching coats for all six of her girls … and matching dresses for our dolls too!


When I was about six years old, mom taught me to sew. We went to the fabric store to choose material for the very first dress I ever made. It was a bright sunflower cotton with blue polka dot accents. My mom patiently helped me develop skill, and it was a process I loved immediately—and still do!


As a young child, I didn’t ponder or fully appreciate the sacrifice, time and attention my mom gave to caring for her family. I don’t know how she managed to balance it all with such grace and wisdom.  But with the Lord we can do all the things we’re called to do, and she was a living example of that truth!


As I ponder it now, the steps she taught me in learning to sew beautifully illustrate the life principles of caring for our families and raising children.


The Pattern

In sewing, the pattern is the starting point and most important first step. Typically, it’s a small envelope with a picture on the front of the finished product. It shows you what the designer envisions the end result to be. On the back of the pattern envelope is a list of everything needed to complete the project. How much fabric, what notions are needed such as buttons, zippers, thread, and the like. Inside the envelope are tissue pattern pieces to lay over the fabric and cut out, as well as the essential step-by-step instructions.


In caring for our family, the pattern is LOVE.


God’s love is foundational in all that we do. It is not a love we can muster up, even as devoted mothers and grandmothers. We choose to be vessels that receive and then pour out this love to others, from God.


From 1 Corinthians 13, we know that this love is patient and kind. It isn’t jealous or boastful or proud. It’s not rude. It doesn’t demand its own way. It’s not irritable. It doesn’t keep a record of being wronged. It takes no pleasure in wrongdoing, but rejoices when truth wins out. Love never gives up. Love never loses faith. Love is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance.


The best thing for our family, for our children to see and hear and experience, is that they are loved. Let’s teach and remind them often that God loves them. Tell them that you love them—not just when they’re well-behaved or get good grades. From the time they are born and all through their lives, seek to reflect God’s love in how you love them.


So, the pattern is love.


The Fabric

Once the pattern is selected, you need to choose the fabric. If you’ve ever gone into a fabric store, you know there’s a wide variety of choices. So how do you choose? Fabrics come in various textures, colors, weight, and cost. There’s a reason for such a wide variety. It would be foolish to use identical fabric on projects intended for different purposes. You wouldn’t choose burlap for a bridesmaid dress!


Just as different fabrics are perfectly suited for their end purpose, God has uniquely and divinely woven together each of us by His hand. As Psalm 139 tells us, God formed our inward parts and we are fearfully and wonderfully made. The psalmist proclaims the beautiful truth of how lovingly, unique and purposefully each individual is created in God’s image. “My soul knows this very well,” the psalmist declares. I love that!


Now in sewing, a “flaw” is a defect in the construction of fabric. You don’t typically use that portion of fabric. But God—by His touch and for His purposes and glory—has woven together all that makes up your individual children, and He makes no mistakes. To our untrained eye, whether unknowingly or unintentionally, some characteristic could be mistaken as a flaw. Please think again.


The wonderful part of raising children is seeking the Lord and discovering His purpose for them as unique individuals. He’s not made anything with a defect. Sin is responsible for the flaws in us all, but these are areas God will use to display His extravagant beauty and grace.


So now that we’ve got the pattern and the fabric, we follow the directions!


Step-by-step Instructions

In sewing, there is an order of assembly that you follow which leads to completion. Even as a talented and experienced seamstress, my mom always followed the directions! She trusted the designer would never require unnecessary steps. After all, it’s His design and He had done this before. He knows best.


The principles of sewing remain constant but there is a unique assembly specific to each design. So how can we become most acquainted with the directions for raising children? Study the instructions, God’s Word! I can’t just do what feels right or emotionally react in frustration.


When I’m growing personally in my relationship with the Lord, all my other relationships will be strengthened. As I read the instructions and apply what I’ve learned, I’m equipped to follow this pattern of love with Jesus as my example.


Learning to sew didn’t come overnight. As I mentioned, my mother patiently worked with me, helping to develop sewing skills that would serve well and instill in me a lifelong joy in the process.


Now let’s bring this illustration of caring for our families together.


God’s pattern is love. The fabric He chooses is uniquely suited for His design. He gives us step-by-step instructions and—just like my mother who skillfully guided my little hands with her own—He patiently, lovingly walks us through the process.


The Bible says that children are a gift from the Lord (Psalm 127:3). In fact, they are a reward from Him. Gifts are meant to be enjoyed, so have fun with your children!


It doesn’t always need to be extravagant, just let them know by your words and actions that you love to be with them doing simple things … reading, baking, cuddling, taking a walk or exploring together something they enjoy doing. The most joyful thing we can do is give them the gift of spending time with them.


The Finished Work

Through the growing up years, when I lost interest or got discouraged with a sewing project, I would just quit. I don’t think my mom ever did that. When it came to family needs, she was never wasteful with anything.


Sewing requires patience, and over time I’ve grown to appreciate the investment of time and effort that comes with reward. It is a work I choose to undertake, from start to finish. It’s not completed until that last stitch is secure.


God has chosen us as mothers to be His hands, His voice, His heart in the sometimes exhausting, but always loving, assembly of children. When we’re tired or discouraged, or think we’ve failed and want to give up, He will give us strength. He never slumbers or grows weary.


Remember, He is the One who sees the unique, one-of-a-kind finished project. He is the One who designed your child. And He is the One who does the real work. This is especially important to hang onto if your child has rebelled against the Lord, a prodigal going their own way. Don’t lose hope—God is not done yet! Remember, more than ever, that pattern of love.


Do you know how much God loves you? He’s not finished with you yet, either. Ask for help and forgiveness, and make a new start. His mercies are new every morning.


One of my most treasured gifts, sewn for me by my mother, is a beautiful quilt. She made it from scraps of old fabric, leftover pieces she refused to cast away. Hand-sewn together with precision, every stitch made with the same care she would have taken with more costly material. For me, the finished result is priceless.


Friends, God is working on each one of us. We are His workmanship and He doesn’t grow tired and abandon us. We’re all in the process of being complete and His work in shaping us and our children isn’t complete until we take our last breath here on earth. We may not see the quilt He is making this side of heaven. Remember this! He is preparing us for eternity.



Being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6