In our calling to accompany “pilgrims” on this earthly journey, we desire to support others who share in our mission and values as they work for the Kingdom in their own “little way.” In a recent monthly meeting, our leadership team discussed what concrete ways could God be calling us to accomplish our vision. Focused on our theme, “His Heart, My Home,” we sought to unpack further how the Lord wanted our restoration ministry to be a place of refuge. All the LWGL Team Leaders held a common desire: To invite a few special guests to share their stories with our community.
We took it to prayer, leaving it with the Holy Spirit, and would revisit our ideas afterward. Little did we know an email already sat in one of our inboxes from a creative saying she would “like to share [her] story” on our blog! It was Madeleine Karako, the founder and owner of Zelie Crafts, a Catholic Etsy shop. See below for the inextricable link between St. Zélie Guérin Martin and our patroness, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. As we discerned and discussed featuring Madeleine’s story, Caitlyn, our Editor, “had chills all the way through reading” the email with bits of her life, story, and work. Another mark of the Holy Spirit, the chills sealed the deal—we had our first guest writer for our blog (beyond Kelly Breaux of our sister ministry and the 20+ Saints for Slackers podcast guests we’ve featured)! And now, we are blessed and honored to share some of Madeleine’s story with you.
LWGL: Please, share with our friends a little bit about yourself.
Madeleine: I’m a stay-at-home mom with two kids. My eldest daughter is 4, and my son will be 2 soon. My husband and I have been married for almost 7 years and have lived in 5 different cities during that time (military spouse life). I have just begun homeschooling my daughter. It’s been a huge learning curve for me, but I’m enjoying it! My husband and I both graduated from the University of Dallas, where I got a BA in English Literature. I taught special needs children for almost 2 years before we moved and I had our first child.
LWGL: Props, especially from Tammi, the teacher, homeschooling-and-now-entrepreneurial mom in our group. What is it that inspired you to start Zelie Crafts?
Madeleine: Three people inspired me to start Zelie Crafts. The first person who inspired my shop was my midwife for both my children, Rebekah Knapp. She brought over 1,000 babies into the world and served her community selflessly because she believed it was her mission from God. Sometimes all she accepted for payment was produce andchicken eggs because she wanted to give the nearby Amish community a chance to have a healthy, safe birth. She was the only midwife in the area to accept me as a patient because I had previously experienced two miscarriages. She gave hope to my pregnancies and allowed the birth of my children to be two of the most incredible experiences of my life. She tragically died in a car accident this year, and it really woke me up. There is no time like the present. Fortunately for Rebekah, even though she was under 40 when she died, she had already lived a life worthy of 20 people. Following in her footsteps, the purpose of my shop is to bring more joy and courage into the world. Making my products brings joy and courage to my family, and I want to share that joy and courage with the people that buy them.
The second person who inspired my shop was Saint Zelie Martin, the mother of St. Therese of Lisieux. Looking for comfort after losing my midwife, Rebekah, I read a book about Saint Zelie and instantly felt an immediate connection. As I sought out her letters and diary entries, I learned that she and I have been through several similartrials. Due to health complications, Zelie could not nurse the majority of her children. She also endured the loss of four children in their infancy, as well as the loss of another child in adolescence. I, too, was unable to nurse my son due to health complications and endured two miscarriages prior to the birth of my two children. During her trials, Saint Zelie never lost her faith in God and wrote that she could never survive her sorrows without God’s support. Saint Zelie also owned her own lace business and sewed the lace herself for most of her adult life. She provided for her family to the extent that her husband retired his watch shop in order to help her run the lace business. I used tothink that a stay-at-home mom needed to devote every hour and every ounce of attention to her children and that anything else she spent time on was selfish. After almost three years of trying to live completely for my children, I was burnt out, depressed, and, though it’s hard to admit it, angry. Reading about Saint Zelie really opened my eyes and made me realize I could be a good mom and have accomplishments apart from my motherhood.
The third person to inspire my shop was my daughter. The first felt doll I ever made was a Jasmine doll that she requested. I had no idea what I was doing. I basically just used the sewing skills I had learned way back in high school and did my best to match the picture of Jasmine that she had given me. To my surprise, my daughter absolutely loved it. She saw the time and energy I put into making it, which made it precious. “Mommy MADE this for me, Daddy!” she would chant over and over again. “It’s very special to me.” That’s when I realized how much I missed creating things and immediately began brainstorming how I could incorporate creativity back into my life.
LWGL: So powerful. And YES, to incorporating creativity into your life! We’d love to know how this work has impacted your faith. And how has your faith impacted this work?
Madeleine: My work has tested my faith in ways I never expected. Creating each of these products takes a piece of my heart every time, and then it’s sent out into the world for approval or disapproval. I have to remind myself over and over again that my worth is not attached to my products and that my worth is not attached to what other people think of them. My worth comes from God and God alone. I didn’t even realize I had such a strong issue with self-worth until I started this business and was forced to recognize how much I crave the approval of others over the things that I care about. But, again, my worth does not come from anyone but God, and that’s a lesson I think I’ll spend my entire life learning.
Before I started this business, I had never had a kinship with any particular saint. It was something I had always hoped for but never experienced. Throughout this entire process, it really has been Saint Zelie calling the shots. I did not have a thought-out plan when I began this adventure. I truly just felt Saint Zelie calling me to do something, and step by step, each day, each minute, she has shown me what I’m called to do. Each day brings a new surprise, a new idea, a new calling. I’ve never experienced a relationship like this with a saint and I never expected it to be so intense, but it’s been wonderful.
My faith is what drives this business—it’s the main purpose of it. At first, I didn’t plan to target a strictly faith-based audience, but as time went on, I realized I wouldn’t be able to be passionate about products that didn’t encourage the Faith in one way or another. I wanted the products to bring faith into everyday life for moms and their kids. Whenthings are personal and tangible, I think we learn and bond and remember it more clearly and in a way that lasts. That’s why I wanted to create products that could bring faith into the lives of children on a personal level. I wanted the saints to be my daughter’s friends and that’s what I hope my saint dolls can accomplish for other children.
LWGL: We 100% know how it feels to start something in faith and rely on that to guide the next steps! And we’re all about the saints being our friends, love that. As a work-at-home mom who wants to bring faith into the lives of children, how do you find time to do this work? And does your family help you with your work?
Madeleine: I’m definitely still figuring out how to balance my work and my role as a stay-at-home mom. It’s my biggest challenge and I learn a little more each day. I usually try to engage my daughter in my work if I can, even if it means I don’t get my work done as quickly as I’d like. In a world of screens and electronics, I want my kids to see me crafting inspired gifts and doing something I love that also provides for our family.
When I set out brainstorming ideas for my shop, I wanted to make sure it was something I could do alongside mothering my kids. And that meant it had to be something I could quickly set down and then pick up again. I’ll sew a doll for 10 minutes when they play independently, and then when my son starts to climb something or tries to eat soap, etc., I set the doll down and pick it back up when I get the next chance. I get the majority of my work accomplished after they go to sleep or when my son naps.
My daughter and my husband are my greatest helpers. My 4-year-old daughter always provides feedback (a mix between positive and negative). She is super honest. If she doesn’t like it, I often work hard to change it in order to pass her approval. She holds me to a high standard, and I love it. My husband helps me out a lot with errand-typetasks. He’ll drop off orders to ship on his way to work or he’ll take fancy photos of my products or go to print out new business cards. He also helps with the financial side of things: he helps me set quarterly goals for sales, makes lovely spreadsheets to organize my spending, and he does the taxes for my shop. He also tries to watch the kids for me for a few hours on the weekends so I can get work done without too much distraction.
My son helps with his constant smiles and giggles. He also helps by testing the durability of my products. Many saint dolls have been thrown into water and toilets and survived.
LWGL: Thank God for toilet-tough saints, ha! Great behind-the-scenes info. We’d love to hear the story behind some of the most meaningful items in your shop.
Madeleine: Some of the most meaningful items in my shop from my perspective are my saint dolls and my miscarriage artwork.
The saint dolls are particularly meaningful to me because they bring the saints into the lives of my children. My daughter plays with princess dolls, but she also plays with Saint Osanna of Mantua and her Guardian Angel doll and Saint Christopher, etc. And when she plays with them, she asks questions: “Why is Saint Christopher carrying Jesus? Why does Saint Osanna have ‘poky’ things on her head? Is my Guardian Angel real? Why can’t I see her?”
All of these questions prompt the sort of important conversations that I want to come up naturally in her childhood. Talking her through them with a tangible item as an example has been so helpful for her learning and my own. I look forward to my son asking similar questions as he gets older.
My miscarriage artwork is meaningful to me because when I experienced my miscarriages it felt like I was one of the few; that it was something rare and abnormal. Nothing anyone said made me feel better. Only when someone wouldopen up and share that they too had experienced a miscarriage or knew someone that had experienced one did I start to feel like I wasn’t isolated or alone.
It also meant the world whenever someone gifted us a tangible item to symbolize our loss. It gave me something to look at and hold onto and grieve over. Whether it was the statue of an angel holding a baby, or the windchime with mychild’s name engraved onto it, it made the loss feel real and respected.
That’s what I hope my miscarriage artwork can do for someone facing a similar trial. Miscarriages and infant loss are unbearable. I hope that I can help a family face that loss, give them something real and tangible to acknowledge andrespect their grief. And Saint Zelie’s knowing words were the perfect fit for the message I wanted to share: “We shall find our little ones again up above.”
LWGL: As we’ve discussed throughout our blog, if we allow it, God uses our most unbearable sufferings for His purpose. Your cross has become an altar. You’ve laid down your sufferings and offered them in love for others, and God has taken them up to reveal His purpose for and His glory through you. As fellow artists, we have respect and gratitude for the art that pours out from your broken heart to minister to other hearts broken from miscarriage.
Of course, there were a couple last Holy Spirit inspirations. For others who need grief support for the loss of a child from pregnancy through adulthood, please reach out to our sister ministry Red Bird Ministries. The story of their founder, Kelly Breaux, inspired the child loss t-shirts we designed with the same St. Zelie message you just shared on them!
A big thanks, Madeleine, for sharing your heart and beautiful creations through your vocation, gifts, and story. Please visit Zelie Crafts on Etsy to see more of Madeleine’s crafts, handmade with love.