Most of my life I never really was a teddy bear collector. I kept one from my childhood and received a few others as gifts over the years. When my sons were younger, our collection grew as they were given many teddies as gifts. Then we discovered Teddy Bear Picnics that had competitions like "Best Dressed Teddy", "Teddy & Owner Look-a-like", "Smallest", "Largest",... We won two Steiff bears just for decorating my youngest son's stroller for the parade and for having a bear dressed like me. Well, we were HOOKED! We went to every Teddy Bear Picnic and Reunion we could find. Sometimes the four of us would win in the look-a-like contest. Wherever we were, we looked at bears and bear-related articles. We started rescuing bears from yard sales. Finding that special bear, the one you call a "real find" made you really hooked. Well the HUG (collection of bears) grew and grew. I made the odd bear from patterns I had and crocheted a few to fit such categories as "Best Handmade Teddy." Walter at 5 and Nathan at 2 sewed bears and both won for "Best Handmade by children." I was doing almost every craft imaginable at the time but was never really big on sewing. I left that up to my talented Mom.
Unfortunately, our precious son Nathan, died of cancer when he was four and so did the happiness in our trips to Teddy Bear Picnics. We missed him and struggled with our loss. Our pastor assured me that God loved me and that He would always be there for me. He reminded me to keep my faith and trust in God to get me through the worst of days. He taught me that Christians are not without hard times but with God by your side you can face them. I received encouragement from my church family and they taught me the value of a hug. A hug is a good way to encourage.
A year and half later at the suggestion of my husband Frank, I signed on to a teddy bear lovers list on the internet. There I talk with and receive virtual hugs from teddy bear artists and collectors around the world. I enjoy reading messages from teddy bear artists discussing different bear making techniques.
As fall arrived so did another period of depression. After a fourth miscarriage, I felt that nothing really mattered anymore. I prayed that God would help me and He didn't let me down. He brought a new friend to me on the internet. She was there for me through some very hard times, always encouraging me to keep going, to have faith, and to give all my pain and sorrow to God and to keep looking to Him for comfort.
In October we heard about The Toledo Toy Store Tribute to Teddies Show & Sale. Several internet people planned to meet there so we decided to go, too. I wondered what I could take to get autographs, something to remember the event and the special people I would meet. Then it came to me, an autograph bear! I was determined to design and sew a bear made from muslin to take with me. Pulling into Franklin Park Mall, Toledo, I finished sewing the last ear on the bear that I had spent many inexperienced hours designing. I wondered if my first bear was good enough to be seen in public. I finally got up the courage to bring it in and obtained over 70 signatures, and even received compliments! Steve Van Houten told me if I could design a bear that looked good made from muslin, I should buy myself some mohair. I was encouraged by Lisa Hughes, LuLu Tatum, Debbie Kesling and other artists to make more for sale. I felt like God had brought me there because I needed some encouraging.
I had a decision to make. What does God want me to do? Do I continue to work at my office job and make bears part-time? Or do I leave my employment to make bears? Either way I felt God wanted me to make bears so "Nan's Bear Hug" began. Two days later while preparing supper I cut my finger very badly requiring 8 stitches. I was very disappointed and confused. Was I not supposed to sew bears after feeling so positive about the direction I should go? I wanted to give up but was encouraged when my pastor prayed with me that God would direct me about the future, and show me I was capable of designing bears. The Bible says "In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path." Proverbs 3:5,6. Exactly three weeks later my employer down-sized and I was laid off. Much sooner than predicted my finger healed and the design ideas started pouring into my head. God had directed my path.
In honour of my little ones in heaven Nathan, Amy, Vanessa, Jonilee, & Benjamin, and because of the encouragement from the Lord, Frank, Walter, my family, the special internet encouragers (you know who you are) and all the other encouragers along the way, I now create bears.
"Encourage one another daily." Hebrews 3:13
"I waited... for the Lord: He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me... and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth..." Psalm 40:1-3