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Matthew, Romans & suitcases

Laura's sermon at Community of Hope, UCC, this Sunday, June 29th, 2014.


Tales of a Packer     Laura Komai


I hope you didn’t think I was going to talk about football. I was actually thinking of myself recently as “one who packs.” I particularly excel at packing a lot of things into little spaces and at packing a lot of activities into small amounts of time. I’m notorious for packing too much when I travel. I’m a packer. That got me thinking about baggage, emotional baggage that is… and that’s how you get a sermon topic.

So, here’s my baggage. The scripture reading from Matthew speaks to a deep sense of welcoming, that in welcoming, we welcome not just those who enter into our lives, but God who sent them. But what else do we welcome? To my mind, this passage speaks also to what we welcome of ourselves that we, or others, consider the stranger, the sinner, the outcast, our emotional baggage as it were. If we are all creations of a loving God, than should we not heed the words about welcoming ALL those aspects of ourselves and others? Well, we’ll see.

First suitcase. Fairness. A friend blames this on having only one sister. However it came to be, I have a strong sense of competition and of fairness - developed mostly with respect to which Komai sibling got the bigger piece of cake. I can very easily extend this to which customer spends more money at my shop, how the amount of energy I expend on a person is “paid back.” It’s the people who seem to benefit from my work more than I do from theirs; it’s how many letters I used to write, how much time I used to spend with my friends’ children. I know, it’s not pretty.

But I am reminded of someone who once told me that she believes God gives us ideas and then if we don’t use them, God takes them away. When I heard this, I shifted immediately into packing mode, writing down all my ideas so that I would have them in my suitcase. You can imagine that I very quickly had about four lifetimes worth of ideas. And that is the lesson of that brief period of hoarding ideas: there is NO shortage of ideas, and it is much more useful to revel in the abundance than to focus on packing your suitcase.

This can be extended to my time, my energy, my affections. Do I consider everything to be finite and limited, requiring a careful build-up of the contents of my suitcase along with judicious doling out? If you think about this theory, it basically suggests that God is an accountant, tracking who gets what, how it is used, what debts are created or repaid. But that’s never how I’ve thought of God. In truth, God promises and asks the exact opposite of us. God promises us abundance, generosity, grace, forgiveness of debts.

The point, as I have come to see it, is not about a simple one-to-one exchange. It is, as the passage on the front of the bulletin states, not that we are precious and separate vessels, but that we are doorways, opening, connecting, sharing, reaching to that which is greater than ourselves. It has never been the accumulation, the lists, the suitcases or the debts. Just as my artistic inspiration comes from a tremendous variety of sources and can thus never easily be paid back, so, too, the gifts and favors in my own life can’t be so easily tallied and repaid. If I am going to carry this suitcase, I must be rigorous about how I measure fairness.  

Not just the size of cake I get or the ways that I give without reciprocation, but the ways I receive without any ability to repay and the ways that I am inspired without any expectation of reward, the constant gifts of grace and love and beauty that happen throughout our days.



Second suitcase: Sin.

When I mentioned this to my mom, she said: you’re bringing THAT in?!  But bear with me.

Recently, I listened to Brene Brown’s TEDtalks on vulnerability and risk. She draws a distinction between shame, which arises when we think of ourselves as bad people, and guilt, which arises when we think of ourselves as committing a bad act. It seems to me that too often we portray sin in ways that generate shame, that is, arising because WE are inherently bad or deficient. However, I’m having trouble reconciling our selves as Godly creations with such a notion. I prefer to think of sin in terms of committing bad or erroneous acts. That kind of sin is not nearly so inescapable. We can apologize, atone, forgive, fix. There is room for redemption. And the suitcase feels lighter.

Additionally, I think it is ok to leave this suitcase open. It is ok to share our mistakes, to be together in our imperfections. We can learn from each other, we can learn OF each other. We can see the fears and pains underlying the sin, and we can shed the light of God’s love upon them.

Further lightening comes with grace. I heard something recently: “You can never make the same mistake twice, because the second time you make it, it’s not a mistake, it’s a choice.”  What you CHOOSE to do after the first time is really critical in my mind. Do you choose, as the passage from Romans describes, to live a life where sin exercises dominion over you? Or will you choose to be enslaved to the grace of a loving and forgiving God? The weight of the suitcase is not so much that the sin was committed, it is how you choose to hold onto it and in what ways you let it reverberate in your life. And so, while I acknowledge the existence of the sin of bad actions and choices, I’m just not sure we need to pack them all into our suitcases. We are still children of God, after all.

To be honest, this is something I have to work at constantly and in the smallest of ways. For example, once I found a journal in our shop with a big ol’ ring of coffee staining the cover. In my world, that IS a sin against me. I’m quite sure that no one’s Mother ever told them to put their coffee cup down on other peoples’ paper goods. Now, the question is: what do I do with that? Will I sulk over the notebook that was damaged? When I see someone else with a coffee cup, will I forbid them entry?

My old boss would call this punishing good customers for the actions of bad customers. It was to be avoided. Otherwise, this allows single instances to taint everything that comes after. Every day I am faced with this choice of holding on to sin, to be on guard and wary OR, I can look beyond the potential for sinning, holding love and patience in my heart for myself, for people carrying coffee cups, for sins committed and for all those that I imagine might someday be. THAT is to resist the call to be enslaved to sin. To resist adding more to this particular suitcase.


Third Suitcase. Risk. This is the suitcase that holds my dream job, the shop I own with my sister. It’s what I believe God calls me to do. There is financial risk, of course, but the bigger risk is to set your heart out there, unlock the doors, and let anyone have at it. This goes back to my first suitcase: What I am risking is the generosity of sharing myself with no guarantee of return. Sometimes people don’t even walk in the door before making a face and turning around. That makes me feel rejected on a very personal level. It makes me feel like… crawling into a suitcase and shutting it against the world. It would be cozy in there. But, yeah, it doesn’t really work that way.

Brene Brown says: “to be vulnerable, to let ourselves be seen, to be honest, is our most accurate measure of courage.”   It’s really terrifying. Still, I remember the first year that we opened - the one where I cried on the phone to the IRS, and thought about getting a second job as a grocery-store stocker. As hard as that year was, I was on a constant high. Every Day, people came into the store: their purchases affirmed my work, their compliments reached me at a deeper level. They were, in effect, saying to me: my heart sees your heart and it is good. Isn’t that all we are really after? But how can we see anyone’s hearts if they are shut away in a suitcase?

Fourth suitcase. Creativity. This goes back to what I believe about our role as those who have been cast in the likeness of God, God who spent those first days creating, forming, making. But this suitcase is not without weight. It carries plans and intentions, thoughts of imperfection, comparison. It also holds a huge pile of projects that have been started but not finished. I am slowly learning to trust the entire contents, including the gap between intention and reality, to be comfortable with the process AND products, which might not be so great in and of themselves, but which ARE always building upon each other.

To give you an example, these garlands hanging behind me. They started as a smaller project at the downtown public library. The garlands themselves were beautiful rainbows of hand-batiked paper that made me oh-so-happy. However, it was hard for me to hang them, there was a lag between the initial idea and the finished product, and people kept pulling them down. Overall, I felt both proud and crabby about the results.

But it turns out that was just the warm-up. Months later, with leftover circles and the need for something to hang in this room, I knew the project would not be time-consuming in terms of design and planning. I had some idea that the garlands would translate to the bigger space, but I never know for sure until I see them all in place, after a substantial amount of work has already been done.

In the midst of all that observing and planning and working, there also has to be empty space.  That space allows for the unplanned, for change, for uncertainty, for the moments when suddenly the Divine speaks to me and says: “you know what would add a perfect bit of sparkle to these garlands? gold origami paper.” You might not think that the Divine speaks of such things, but, trust me, that’s exactly how we talk to each other. Leaving space in my suitcase for serendipity and intuition usually brings exactly what is needed to the process, in this case adding just the right spark to catch the light as flame on the day we would celebrate the Holy Spirit, our Pastor, and each other.



So, there you go, four of my suitcases. By no means all of them. 

As I continue on my journey

I hope that I am able

to welcome all aspects of my Self and others, including baggage,

to appreciate the flow of gifts and energy that defies packing,

to mindfully choose what is packed and what is left behind

and to move through the world with Love and grace


with the help of God.



calming down

Just a bit.

Or not. I think I might have jinxed myself with that comment - though, to be fair, what with all the crazy weather we've been having around here, my week has been very calm by comparison to happenings in other peoples' yards.

And while I feel like I've been able to catch my breath just a bit (and am not as crabby as a result), we have received about four boxes every day this week, plus a flurry of shipment notification emails. The first good news related to that is that we finally have our recycle bin back after several months of construction out our  back door. Phew. Taking cardboard home was bad enough during the slow time of year; that's the last thing I want to be dealing with now that arrivals have picked up.

Things are definitely rolling in from the Stationery Show. As well as restocking of all those orders I placed in April that were supposed to last to August but which are already selling out. Not a bad problem to have, I know. Still, that feeling of running behind is not so pleasant - just for example, I had an order of 100 buttons yesterday and suddenly realized that I was somehow out of the mylar piece that goes over the paper. Rookie mistake for a store that sells buttons. After I recovered from a moment of on-the-verge tears/panic, my inner MacGyver kicked in and I realized that the transparency plastic we use for book covers is just about the right weight and would do just fine for the last 10 buttons of the batch. 

As far as new arrivals at the shop, hmm.... where to begin? I'm not at all caught up. Looking over at the table I can see notecards, beer t-shirts, rap prints, art boards, market totes, hemp twine, notecards, notecards and more notecards, all waiting to be priced. You can definitely tell we went to the Stationery Show. But it is great to get an infusion of new cards.

The Wisco charm necklace has been very popular so we've been busy making more of those and trying to keep up. We saw a cute idea for two state charms with a heart so we'll be expanding the collection to some Minnesota (heart) Wisconsin versions, as well as other Midwest states.

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We found these great paper packs while shopping in New York City. I love that they are sorted by color. It makes me want to paper an entire room with color-sorted ephemera.

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Perhaps one of my favorite finds at the show are a series of artists making prints. That continues to be a growing category for us and while I love the trend of text for wall art, I like to find something that differentiates itself from all the mass-produced text available at big box stores. I particularly loved this company with its combination of text and photographs from the southwest. I have some feelings of envy because one of the reasons I took that Photoshop class this spring was to be able to create such things myself. But there's still time. In the meantime, I fall back on my usual comfort: just because I *can* make something doesn't mean I have to.  Something like this but with midwestern imagery would be cool. In the meantime, I find their combination of text and images really evocative.


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In more Midwestern image related news, we got our custom tea towels from an artist in Michigan. Many artists, it seems, are coming out with state-based imagery from around the country. Perhaps not locally produced, but still a few steps up from the mass produced images one finds at the airport gift shops, which often seem to be no different from one place to the next except that the text has changed.

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But speaking of things that are mass-produced and imported from overseas, our Totoro collection continues to be very popular. It's fun to see the reactions from people of all ages, as well as to elicit nostalgia in a tween ("aw... remember when we used to watch that all the time?!"). Along with restocking wallets and coin purses, I ordered more Japanese stickers so we have an assortment of bakery goods, critters, and critters disguised as bakery goods.

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Finally, the fight for same-sex marriage in this state drags on. We are waiting for the various appeals and counter-appeals.. or whatever passes for process... over a matter which, I have always felt, already IS settled by the equality that we are guaranteed by our U.S. Constitution. Frustrating. I've sent my letter to the Attorney General and the Governor, as well as to the newspaper. I am somewhat comforted by the support coming from various media outlets. Meanwhile, the Governor continues to dodge the question, saying that it doesn't matter what he thinks. It doesn't matter that someone holding an elected government office doesn't think that we are all guaranteed equal rights under the U.S. Constitution?! Grr. Frustration notwithstanding, I'm going ahead with preparing the shop for a time when same-sex marriage will be legal for more than a week, namely ordering more same-sex wedding cards. The world of invitations is still a bit of a mystery to me - it is clear there is money to be made, but it requires a lot of time and also square footage, and would require me to apply my sorting and refining technique to that world - because, honestly, there's a lot of yucky papergoods out there. Anyway, we'll just keep on with the work. I'm trying to remind myself that I thought it was going to take two legislative sessions to sort this all out and the fact is that things are still moving faster than I ever thought they would, even though it feels like they are moving slowly.

I have creative things I should be working on, as well as restocking for the shop, but I seem to be frittering away my evenings. Well, to be fair, I'm delivering the sermon at our church at the end of the month and that has been taking some of my time. Sachi, meanwhile, has been having fun with pleated papers. She made these little prize ribbons for a friend and is now making some for her upcoming birthday party.

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I have a huge batch of magnet picture frames that I'm in the middle of so that's what I should really be working on. Just as soon as I do some more unpacking - I see the FedEx guy just brought some more boxes.



Sigh.... so far far behind. And it is already the middle of June. Double sigh. 

That said, I came across some insight recently which will perhaps surprise no one who stops in here regularly. I am still sorting through paperwork and came across an old Myers-Briggs test that I took shortly after graduating from college in that period of 'what am I going to do for the rest of my life?' I noted, first, that shopkeeper is towards the bottom of a two-page, two-column list of likely careers, which was topped by librarian, nurse and teacher. After our experience at the Bubbler and my brief glimpses into dealing with large groups of children, I'm not sure that librarian or teacher would satisfy the extreme introvert that I am either. But I also read the accompanying text which was all about this type liking to be helpful and usually filling their days with lots of activities and tasks which they complain about but if you tried to be helpful and took them away, the type would be sad and complain even more. So, I guess you are stuck with this.

In any event, this year is not slowing down at all. I have finally caught up from being gone on vacation and am currently feeling like I can never do that again because I kind of feel like I was punished for it. However, I will probably get over that feeling. There is still a long list of work to be done, and I really just need to wake up early and get to the store so I can have a big chunk of uninterrupted time in the office to deal with the rest of the paperwork. At least it isn't the end of the quarter yet (which has another set of forms to file with the Feds and State). Despite all the tasks, the time has been filled with many lovely surprises.

Fellow artist and Stencil Girl extraordinaire Mary Beth Shaw posted this picture on her Facebook page - but, hey! I recognize those fabrics!  Those are the tiny little scraps that I generate in my sewing projects! And I have to say it is a tremendous relief that someone else is putting them to use. After the work that I have done to generate the scraps, and after all the other fabric that I still have to deal with, it is a treat to be able to know that what I produce will not go to waste and will instead go on to further creative life. These scraps are really all too small to sew again in a conventional way (a quarter-inch seam turned under), but work perfectly if you don't mind raw edges. Almost tempts me to make some journal covers...  No. Focus, Laura, focus.



In my own creative life, the last week was taken up with sewing paper garlands for an installation at our church. Some circles were cut before I went away, but I wasn't totally sure of the scope of the project until about a week before it was due. The project itself is rather simple (an imitation of my batik circle garlands at the library, except not just batik paper since I knew there wouldn't be enough time to batik more paper). Mostly, it relies upon sheer quantity for impact, which meant sewing until 11:30 at night to get all 50 done. There's always that gap in time between how you envision a project and how it actually turns out - that gap, however small, is somewhat stressful. I had some experience to go on, but still was not sure it would work for the space or be as nice as I was hoping it to be. However, the reaction was very rewarding. Phew, success! I kind of wish I was a videographer beause the moment when we were raising the garlands from the floor was super cool: all these drapey garlands rising up. It would have been a cool clip.

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And perhaps the biggest news of all which I should have said first is that Wisconsin is taking steps towards accepting gay marriage! It's hard for me to convey what a big deal this is, and it doesn't even affect me directly, except that it does, because I think all of us are better off when all of us have liberty and equality, not to mention that I'm quite sure I could sell more wedding cards (I saw a sign once that said: "Three words to end the recession: gay wedding registry.") More people in love and having other people acknowledge their partnership is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. Anyway, in 2006, Wisconsin passed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. I didn't vote for that! And I have always felt it was unconstitutional and frankly been a little puzzled why it wasn't challenged and brought to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ways of the courts are a mystery to me. Technically speaking, undoing that constitutional amendment would require another vote of the people AND two legislative sessions (highly unlikely in our Republican-controlled legislature). All of this is to say that I had resigned myself to Wisconsin being left behind yet again. I know that many people have been waiting years for this, but I myself am feeling stunned and grateful at the speed at which I went from having a resolution years in the distance to such a feeling of optimism right now. There is still a lot of work to be done. The Attorney General is dragging his heels and promises to appeal the judge's decision. I rather expect that this will end up back in the U.S. Supreme Court and they will have to decide forcefully that state's rights do not trump the rights of all citizens under the U.S. Constitution to have freedom and equality.


Nonetheless, there's some giddiness in the air. For my little shopgirl part, I went out and ordered more rainbow cake wedding cards, put in a request to a typically hetereosexual card company to see if they had any same-sex couple card plans in the works, and am working with our rubber stamp company on a new design to commemorate the hashtag that arose: #lovewinsWI. Clearly this is because I am a Capitalist, but I do feel like some of the movement on this issue will come from people realizing that, hey, this is good for business! Anyway, word from the judge that the amendment violated the fundamentals of liberty and equality came down on Friday June 6, so I immediately spent the rest of the day converting our window.

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And I have an idea about a print of some sort - I do love hashtags - so I'm playing around with sumi ink and my coke can pen. It's taking lots of practice. 


Meanwhile, back at the shop, new goodies are arriving daily from our buying trip out to New York. We're in paper heaven: letterpress cards, science cards, funny cards from the UK...


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Sweet little letterpress notebooks with collections of quotations, 

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handmade papers in lovely florals and other patterns...

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We also received more book letters, but are once again sold out of one already. It's always a different letter that I don't order enough of. Someday I'll get it. I hope. The batch seemed particularly nice this time - lots of fun patterned covers.

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Finally we received these lovely enamel Wisconsin necklaces so we continue to add to our collection, though the tiny Wisco charm remains quite popular and has us busily making more just trying to keep up. Of course, the numbers tell me that we're having a strong spring - so I really shouldn't be surprised when I open a drawer on something I thought we had lots of, only to find the stock is dwindling. It keeps happening though. I know, I know, not a bad problem to have...

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Anyway, we do have lots of new goodies in store and the store is looking good after my last flurry of rearranging. We hope you have a chance to stop in soon!