Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.

Pretty in Pink

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I took Home Economics my freshman year in high school and a large part of our quarter grade was to make boxer shorts.  I was excited about the assignment and picked a pretty pattern of pink flowers on a pink background.  The only thing that wasn’t pink was the pale lime-colored leaves that formed under each tiny rose bud.

It looked very vintage and still very chic.  I thought for sure Molly Ringwald would want to borrow them if she did a sequel to Pretty in Pink.  But to my dismay, there was no sequel, which considering how my boxer shorts came out, I figured it was just as well.

It’s a shame what I did to that pretty fabric in the name of sewing.  I cut, poked, and stitched in all the wrong places.  As the end of the quarter approached and I saw the impressive results of my classmates cute little boxers, I resigned myself to sleeping in old t-shirts for the rest of my life.  I begged my mom to take me to her alterations lady and have her fix the mess I had made.  She refused – probably because she was so horrified at the mutilated fate of the pretty fabric.

I barely got a D that quarter, which was a little bit crushing since it was Home Ec, not rocket science.  Apparently, I had about as much proclivity towards domesticity as I did algebra.  Why couldn’t I have Molly Ringwald’s life?  (Of course, I mean her life the last five minutes of the movie.)

Anyway, that is my experience with sewing. I don’t even do buttons.

Last year, when I heard about a new nonprofit that involved sewing, I was skeptical.  I pictured a bunch of old grannies sitting around in their embroidered dresses threading needles.  And while my own Granny was dearer to my heart than just about everybody, this concept seemed as unappealing to me as a 1986 Home Economics class.

How ironic then that Rethreaded’s mission is anything but antiquated and everything that is beautiful – no matter what your taste in fashion. According to their website, “Rethreaded seeks to unravel the effects of the sex trade, whether it takes the form of human trafficking, prostitution, pornography or strip clubs.”

That hardly makes me think of sewing.  Yet women affected by the sex industry are taught self-worth, dignity, and a new way of life by becoming seamstresses. These castoff women who have experienced addiction, violence and prostitution transform old donated t-shirts into something new that they can sell – clothes, bags, purses and scarves.  They call it up-cycling. I call it uplifting.

Up-cycled merchandise for sale.

Up-cycled merchandise for sale.

When you see the beautiful items they make and sell, it’s a marvel to think its physical transformation pales compared to how it changes worn, tired and broken lives into the vibrant colors of hope.

Rethreaded trains these women to become artisan seamstresses, pays them a living wage and most importantly, redresses them with dignity, compassion and love.

My boys and I spent part of an afternoon working with them and some other volunteers in a warehouse downtown.  I explained to my children that we were going to a place that helps women who have had a hard life, maybe been on drugs, homeless or somehow hurt by other people.  I told them that Rethreaded teaches them a new skill and gives them a job so they can start over.

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One of the thousands of t-shirts waiting to be up-cycled. I love it’s message!

The warehouse was clad in both old and new.  There were worn t-shirts of every size, color and logo ever imagined.  They lined the walls, filled bins and hung from hangers like a rainbow.  There was also the up-cycled merchandise patched together from discarded garbs into beautiful boutique quality merchandise for sale.  Weaving in between old and new were me, my children, other volunteers, staff and the women sewing a new story for themselves.

We sorted t-shirts by color, following a Pantone chart with names like vivacious, koi and turbulence.   Their fall and winter merchandise would be derived from these colors.  If the t-shirt wasn’t on the new chart, it was put away in bins.  T-shirts that conformed to the chart’s palette were hung on wire hangers.

The air was stifling hot in the warehouse and almost immediately little beads of sweat formed on my son’s nose.  While it was uncomfortable being that hot, it seemed somehow cathartic to sweat alongside and in honor of women who have been degraded, and yet are brave enough to choose a different pattern for their lives.

As a parent raising children in an over-sexualized culture, it is important to me that my boys understand the proper context of sex.  Within love and marriage, it is a gift.  It should never be violent or forceful.  Nor is it something to sell or give away without regard to its sacred nature.  Sex is also abused when we assign judgment to others for their choices or circumstances.

It is a challenging message to convey in a world where sex is a commodity, consent is ignored or given too freely, and pleasure takes priority over people.

It scares me as both a woman and a mother how sex is debased, rights are violated and lives ruined.  So it was empowering to volunteer on behalf of an organization whose mission is to counter the effects of the sex industry.

Of course, my boys don’t understand all that now.  But someday, they will recall how they sweat alongside their mama amid the myriad of colorful t-shirts.  They will understand why what they did was so important. They will know what it means to respect women’s bodies and their own.

Among the countless other people who realize the true beauty of sexuality is based on love, I pray my children will be part of the color of hope in the bleak world of sexual exploitation.

Rethreaded enables women to rediscover the vivid colors unique to their lives, so they can begin to create a new tapestry sewn with love into a timeless story of hope.

Maybe these women will title it Pretty in Pink.  No, that wouldn’t quite do. A story like that would have to begin with beautiful.

If you would like to support Rethreaded’s work to offer hope to women affected by the sex industry, please visit their website at http://www.rethreaded.com/ You can either get involved by volunteering, donating or my personal favorite, shopping!

I bought a colorful bangle for myself that was made out of parts of broken bracelets. It is a reminder to me that something broken can be turned into something beautiful – if it’s just given a chance. 

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Author: Lara Patangan

Mercy me, I’ve got work to do… is a blog I started on my 40th birthday to chronicle my experiences spending the year doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy. No longer on the cusp of a new decade, I am still here finding that much work remains – in the world, my community, my relationship with God and perhaps most challenging, within myself. Please sign up and join me as we share the work that matters most – being better people. In hopes that when the decades cease to pass the world will still whisper of the graces left in our wake.

8 thoughts on “Pretty in Pink

  1. You ARE SUCH A GOOD WRITER!  I AM CRYING… AND I NEEDED TO CRY.  

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    • Cecy,

      I have a crying hanging over myself. I wrote next week’s posts last night about comforting the sick and I have been in a swollen fog all day! I hope your cry was a good cathartic cry. My eldest said to me today “You look different. Your eyes are all puffy and you look older.” Now that makes me really want to cry – but hopefully it will make you laugh!!

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  2. Lara, I love that you have been able to include your children on these projects. This exposure to all walks of life is an invaluable lesson! I hope I can follow your example with my girls.

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    • Anna,

      They have been such good sports about it. They never complain. It is very difficult though to find organizations that are willing to let your children volunteer. Rethreaded was great about it which I think just spoke to their accepting and welcoming nature. I was grateful though because it really is hard to teach your children these lessons when no one wants them around!

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  3. I love this post! What an amazing organization and founder! Thank you, Lara, for sharing about your time with them! You inspire me!

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    • Thank you April! It is an amazing organization and the founder is such an inspiration — it is still it’s first year!! It really makes you believe that we can all make a difference. Yesterday evening around 7 p.m. I was driving and saw several girls that looked like they have taken that path. I felt so sick and sad thinking how desperate they must feel. I prayed for them but I am glad to support Rethreaded which helps in the tangible way that prayers make possible.

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  4. Wow!! What an uplifting story! And what a powerful teaching tool for your boys, I think every mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandma & grandpa should share in this experience w the little ones in their lives.I think people of all ages could really benefit from the message these beautiful,strong and resilient women have to share just simply,( well not so simply what they have done and continue to do takes more courage and bravery than I believe I could ever muster) by their actions. Thanks for sharing and by the way, Lara, u r an incredible writer, to keep my attention throughout the entire piece is nothing short of a miracle

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    • Thanks Kathy! Your right these women are so courageous to leave their past behind them and start on a new path. I think too though how badly people just need another chance to start fresh and how badly people just need someone to believe in them. I think truly its these people, who have had so little opportunity for a good life, that make the most of their chances when they are finally give them. I have tremendous hope for them.

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