I think I speak for everyone when I say that the one thing we all have in common, whether we want to admit it or not, is that we each have a huge collection of random t-shirts stuffed in a drawer or closet or tote box or pile on the floor. The crazy thing is, these shirts just sort of show up over the years; I am not sure where I got all of them or how they made their way to my closet, but every time I check, I swear a few more have shown up. I also do not know of anyone who actually wears all of the t-shirts they have. Personally, I have developed a system to store them according to how much they are used:
At the very bottom of the pyramid (which is a plastic tub stored in the basement) I have all of the shirts I will never, ever wear again—my third grade tee ball shirt, a post prom tee that barely fits, some free tee from a radio station, and the family hand-me-down tee that has been to every older cousin and sibling, to name a few. Being a somewhat rational person, I have to ask myself, why not just get rid of these completely useless t-shirts? Honestly, I don’t have a good answer, but every time I try to donate them or give them away, I come up with some excuse and cannot let them go. It is completely ridiculous, but the smorgasbord of random shirts is a part of me and a bit of a shrine to my past: I have a t-shirt for everything I’ve ever done and everywhere I have ever been. They are little memory tokens… that I choose to put in a box out of sight.
The next level of the t-shirt pyramid is composed of the stained, oversized, oldies, who have seen better days, that I am not ready to let go of quite yet. These t-shirts are the most pitiful of them all in my opinion. They are caught in the middle between ‘I love you and will wear you all the time’ and ‘I’m shoving you in a box for eternity’. These tees make their home in a drawer and are either worn around the house when I am cleaning or crafting, or when I am going to bed. I call these “old clothes” and it is their purpose to be timeworn and comfortable.
The very top level of tees is actually a shelf in my closet; they sit on a high throne of convenience and repetition. As you can imagine, these are the select few elites that get worn regularly. I actually have two stacks of these, though. The left stack is all colored tees, and the right stack is all of my black t-shirts. I am not exaggerating when I say I have more black t-shirts than anything else in my closet. I adore them. To the people who spend endless amounts of time picking out an outfit: a black t-shirt and jeans will never fail you.
I am a firm believer in a largely black wardrobe—one can never have too much black. It is the color of coffee and mascara and penguins. Black is good. Regardless of how many black shirts I already own, I will always buy another.
My absolute favorite way to get a black t-shirt, though, is to hunt for one among masses of grandma sweaters and 90’s puff jackets at the thrift shop. There is something so satisfying about digging through all of the crap to get something worthwhile, such as a black tee, for dirt cheap—it’s like finding buried treasure. Thrift shopping takes practice, though; it is a sport of patience. You have to wait for the right item to surface, and you have to know where to look when it does.
I think a lot of our struggles in life come from not waiting, and from expecting things to show up conveniently just for us when we need them to. Life is a lot like a thrift shop: you have to wait for the right things instead of settling for whatever is in front of you now, and you have to dig for the things you want to get out of it. Thrifting wouldn’t be very much fun if I went in with the mindset that it was all just going to be grandma sweaters and puff jackets. If I didn’t take the time to dig through things, I would either walk out empty-handed, or worse yet, with a giant teddy bear sweatshirt.
Babe Ruth told us to never let the fear of striking out keep us from playing the game. When you go thrift shopping, you may not find a treasure, and that’s okay, but if you keep going back, you may find the perfect black t-shirt with the original tags still attached for ninety-nine cents. In the same way, when you decide to get off the bench and take a swing at life, you may strike out, but you also might hit it out of the park.
Up until a week ago, I thought those were my two options in life and at the thrift shop: I could either win, or I could lose. Then, as I shuffled through the racks at my local Goodwill last Monday, I came upon something holy—another black t-shirt. I grabbed it immediately. This tee was different than my others. It had a high neckline and sleeves that did not quite come to the elbow, like something that a woman in the 40’s would wear. It was the holy grail of thrift shop finds: vintage. I was so excited… until I got into the dressing room to try it on. It didn’t fit the way I wanted it to; it bunched in odd places, hung awkwardly at the sides and was entirely too long and baggy at the bottom. Normally, I would have put something like this back, but for some reason, I had this feeling that I should still get it and try to make it work.
I got it home and put it on, and as I looked in the mirror, I thought, “Wow, this still looks just as terrible as it did at the store.” I tried on some different pants and skirts and things with it and attempted to “fix” it, but nothing looked quite right. Then, I got a bit of a crazy idea.
A few years ago, my parents got me a sewing machine for Christmas. I am not sure why they got it for me, because the only knowledge I have of sewing is what I learned in eighth grade FACS class; I haven’t used the thing hardly at all. There were several times over the years that I tried to make something small or sew a few pieces of fabric together for practice, but none of those attempts ever worked out too well. Yet, at the moment, I had completely convinced myself that I could cut up this thrift store tee and somehow sew it back together to fit me perfectly. I already had this image in my head of exactly what I wanted it to look like, all I had to do was make it happen.
So, at ten o’clock at night, I decided I was going to stay up and work until this shirt was finished. I measured ends and edges I wanted to go, pinned some things in place and thought it looked pretty good; then I got to cutting. I cut this shirt up so much that I actually felt like Edward Scissorhands; I even had two pairs of shears—one in each hand. I tried it on and made adjustments at each turn, and I did run into some problems.
What I originally thought would be a quick job, turned into a three hour ordeal (and half of that time was spent trying to remember how to thread the sewing machine). Once I got the bottom length to where I wanted it, I put in on and realized the sides still looked baggy, so I cut them open and took two inches off of each and sewed them back together. Then, I saw that in cutting up the sides, I had made big holes in the armpits—I could not just leave it like that. So I eye-bawled it a bit and cut out some swatches from the underarms then sewed the sleeve and bodice back together. At the very end, I decided to go over all the edges again with a few more front and back stitches, because I was not even sure my sewing job would hold up.
It was one in the morning by this point and my shoulders were sore from hunching in front of the sewing machine for so long. I finally finished this project and decided to put the shirt on one last time.
The sense of pride I got when looking in the mirror at my finished product was something wonderful, that is, thankfully, still fresh in my mind. I had done it. The shirt was not just a t-shirt anymore, it was my t-shirt, and it was exactly like the picture I had in my mind of how I wanted it to look.
Me in my perfectly altered black t-shirt.
I realized something looking in the mirror at my finished product: you can win and you can lose, but you can also change. If you don’t like the person or the circumstances, or the t-shirt staring back in the mirror at you, it is within your power to change them. I forget this all too often, unfortunately, and I let my happiness be dictated by circumstances I just assume I cannot change without even trying. In completing my little shirt makeover, I had to ask myself, what else have I not changed or fixed because I assumed I couldn’t?
I did not have the skills or knowledge to be cutting up, hemming, and taking in a shirt, but I did it anyways. Philippians 2:13 says “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”
We can literally do anything if we have Christ on our side, and many people know that. It is the next step where we are missing the boat; we actually have to believe in ourselves enough to take action and do the thing.
A more common verse in Philippians that relates to this is chapter four, verse thirteen: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Just because this verse is overstated, does not make it less true. It is my hope though, that we would bear in mind it’s significance and value, and not just wear it on our t-shirts, but bind it around our necks and write it on the tablet of our hearts (Proverbs 3:3)
You can trust in God, be faithful, and practice thanksgiving for the things he has given you—and I encourage you to do so—but when things are not the way you pictured them, don’t just pray that He will miraculously fix everything for you. He also blessed you with talents and passion, a heart and a brain; He gave you these abilities, so that you could use them to fix the things that need fixing. Instead of praying for the hungry person on the corner, go and feed them. I am not saying don’t pray; I am saying pray and don’t stop there—do something.
If you need more inspiration to get up and act, I encourage you to read the book of Colossians. It discusses the beauty of thanking God, praying to God, and then doing good work for God through the apostle Paul while he was in imprisonment.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:24
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” Colossians 4:5
If Paul can believe and write these truths while imprisoned for acting on God’s behalf, then I think I can practice them in my freedom. No matter who we are or where we are, we were graciously given the capabilities to change things for ourselves and for others; it is our choice to use our time and talents for transformation, or for trifling. Luke 6:38 teaches us that the amount you give will determine the amount you get back.
We only get out of life what we put into it; if we go into a thrift store expecting the most awful and ugly sweater, that is what we will receive. If we go into a thrift store expecting something wonderful to be waiting for us, we may find it, but we also may be disappointed. On the other hand, if we go into a thrift store with an open mind, we can come out with a treasure every time. It may require a few alterations, but if we work at it with care, remain patient, and see it through to the end, we will be left with a sense of accomplishment and a perfectly fitted black t-shirt.
I will leave you with one of my absolute favorite quotes by Nathan W. Morris:
“Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.”