This article was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Our Jackson Home: The Magazine.
I had been craving some good country biscuits for a while when the Autrys invited me over for breakfast one Sunday. Marcie told me that her husband, Jamie, makes excellent biscuits and, man, was she right. “One of our dreams is to have a biscuit truck at the farmers’ market. We have a lot of dreams, though,” she said laughing in their kitchen. In fact, they’ve started keeping a written list, storing their dreams away in a log, ready for the picking when the time is right.
I first met Marcie a few years ago when she was getting a group of volunteer photographers together to take family portraits as a fundraiser for her family’s adoption. I remember thinking what a meaningful idea it was to arrange family-based services to assist in family building. Since then, Marcie’s creativity, work ethic, and passion for people has been made evident in A New Thing fall marketplace, a marketplace of local vendors and nonprofit organizations. The proceeds of the marketplace help alleviate the financial needs of adoptive families. Many of the vendors sell up-cycled and handmade items including jewelry fashioned from shrapnel in the third world, furniture once discarded and non refurbished, and, last year, artisanal paper. Fig Paper Company, one of Marcie’s ongoing dreams, recycles paper to make stationary, wall art, and other beautiful paper goods.
The Autrys’ table had some of the expected breakfast staples: eggs, bacon, and strawberries. But Jamie’s biscuits were center stage. We passed around gravy, honey, and jam and butter. We talked about travel and cheerleading and growing up and laughed with their son Kaplan through breakfast. Afterward, Marcie sat down with me to talk about Fig Paper Co., her family, and how their dreams intersect to tell a story of restoration and redemption.
“Tell me a little about Fig Paper Co.,” I said.
She said it began with A New Thing marketplace and a preexisting interest in how our consumerism can intersect with social awareness and have a positive impact. She asked herself the question: “If I’m going to sit down and write a card, is there a way that I can purchase the cards I’m going to use so that the money is going to go to a greater good? I think, for me, I felt a passion for that social enterprise for a while.”
After going to Ethiopia with True Light Childcare in January 2014, Marcie began thinking about how her interest in social enterprise could benefit the families and women she met there. “After I got back from Ethiopia, I really started feeling this stirring within myspirit. . . . I started praying about being connected somehow with these women that were there and experiencing hardships, and I felt like I heard the Lord say, ‘Learn to make paper.’ It was really weird because I’d never made paper before. I didn’t know anything about it. But through the process of learning how to do that, I feel like I started learning so much about working with your hands and about creating something from nothing. So that is how the idea came to be.”
Last summer, Marcie teamed up with Courtney Searcy to learn how to make paper. In July, Courtney studied with Claudia Lee, a Nashville-based artist who works with handmade paper, and brought her new knowledge of the trade back to Jackson. Together, she and the Autrys set up a makeshift studio on the Autrys’ back patio. With a paper press made of old cutting boards and screens made by Jamie, they began to make paper.
“There’s this verse in Thessalonians that says, ‘Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and work with your hands.’” Marcie said, “There’s something, to me, spiritual that happens when I am creating with my hands. . . . It’s putting your hands in that warm vat of water and pulling the screen up and seeing this newly formed sheet of paper and then being able to lay that out and press it down. The process takes two or three days just to dry the paper and then being able to peel it off the surface and its completely solid and dry. I just think that there’s, once again, that redemption and restoration story that runs through that.”
Fig Paper Co. recycles discarded paper collected by Marcie and Courtney or given to them by friends. They’ve used scraps from Inkwell’s Press (friends of the Autrys who make hand-bound journals and original prints) and old church materials. Marcie says the process and their products seem more meaningful when the paper being recycled has a story.
“Courtney made batches of paper from old sewing patterns. I just love how things can be repurposed and have a story. I think that I use that word a lot—just the idea that everything has a story and is interconnected, and I love that. I love how this sewing machine pattern was used by some grandmother, maybe, to make her grandchildren these clothes . . . and then being able to take that and break it down and create a notecard that someone will [use to] write an encouraging note to someone else. I just love that theme.”
“We’re dreamers, right?” I say. “And we’re embracing our humble beginnings, as you said, but I know we’re still dreaming, so what is the big dream for Fig Paper Co.?”
“The big picture would be that there would be women who could work with their hands and could make paper and be able to sell it. My dream sort of was that it would be a two part process. Women and mothers in Ethiopia and caregivers who are caring for these children, I can see them standing outside their house and pulling these sheets of paper and having these big drying racks and then being able to sell the paper . . . to us, [and we would] put the paper together to make different products. We would always purchase those handmade papers from them, and then we would have women who would work that needed extra income, that needed childcare, that we could provide child care free of charge. That we would be able to sit around and put these cards together and tie them with envelopes and put them in packages and ship them out, and it would be this connection of taking something you have created out of this paper and making it into this product. . . . So that’s the dream. The big picture dream would be that that’s what it would turn into. I don’t know the logistics of how that happens but maybe one day.”
In the meantime, Marcie intends to get really good at making paper while the logistics work themselves out and while their family eagerly awaits a new addition. With an upcoming adoption, which will hopefully be finalized later this year, the Autry family is busy preparing for its newest member.
“This adoption has been crazy,” she says. “The first adoption with Kaplan was very [straightforward]. This adoption has been going on for about three years.” And indeed their second adoption story seems to have taken a long and winding road. After the Autrys initially felt drawn toward international adoption, they had chosen to focus on adopting from Honduras. They were accepted into one of the two Christian adoption agencies working with Honduras at the time and began the process. “But many plans are in a man’s heart,” Marcie said, referring to a Proverb, “but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
Through circumstance, prayer, and listening to the stirrings the Lord gave them, the Autrys’ second adoption process has had a few chapters, some longer than others, with a range of settings.
“To people who are in the adoption community, all of that would make sense to them, but to people from the outside who are not in the adoption community, I felt like a crazy person. I felt like, ‘Okay, we’re adopting from Honduras. No, just kidding, now Ethiopia. Wait, not Ethiopia, maybe India. Nope, it’s China!’ I just felt kind of tossed around, but within our family it didn’t feel like that at all because everything that the Lord had been stirring and working—it all seemed to make sense in that moment.”
After feeling led toward a special needs adoption, the Autrys are now pursing the adoption of a little boy from China who will hopefully join them by the end of the year. “He’s just beautiful and wonderful and perfect. . . . I just want to go get him right now. . . . His file became ready for adoption last October right when we were feeling this stirring. So it all makes sense now, but it’s just been a crazy ride. . . . We’re now waiting to be able to go get him and bring him home and [Kaplan comes running in from another room and jumps into Marcie’s lap] then have two wild and crazy boys. Do you think he’s going to be wild and crazy like you, Kap? Yeah, I think so, too.”
Kaplan nuzzles his little head into Marcie’s neck and wraps his arms around her. She runs her fingers through his boyishly tousled hair as she continues to share about motherhood.
“The idea of motherhood is like a Johnson & Johnson commercial. My friend has this great idea that we have of the white curtains flowing with the children sitting on the floor and playing, and they’re all dressed in white, and it’s very flowy and beautiful. And then the reality of motherhood is crushed up Goldfish on the floor and screaming naked children running through the house and throwing fits in the middle of the grocery store.”
“You don’t do any of that do you, Kaplan?” I ask.
“No, he actually never has [Marcie reaches forward to knock on a wooden side table] thrown a fit in the grocery store. . . . Before you become a parent, you really do have this idea. Every parent wants the best for their child, and you want your kid to be wonderful and perfect. For us, our definition of parenting has totally changed. We desire for our children to learn and to grow up and be responsible and stable adults and all of that, but more than anything else, we really just want to provide a loving place. We want this to be a haven of peace and encouragement and thriving. . . . We want our kids to learn to love people, and we feel like that happens inside the home. How we treat one another, and how we mess up and have to ask for forgiveness, and how we interact—this is a place where all of us can throw fits, and this is the place to do that. If you can’t experience those emotions and those hard things at home, where else can you?”
After a while Kaplan went upstairs to play with his dad.
I asked Marcie what adoption means to the Autry family, and she said that, as her husband put it, it means “everything.”
“We feel like we’re a family built on adoption. I feel like it defines who I am. It has a lot to do with who God has made me to be. . . . Going through the process with Kaplan, the Lord really showed us His love for His people, not just us and this child, but Kaplan’s birth mother and birth family. In a perfect world there would be no adoption because there would be no hurt and brokenness and need for that. But adoption is something now, once again, a story of redemption that is worked into the fabric of our lives. That experience, it was beautiful and it was hard and it was wonderful, all of those things. I feel like that’s the main thing—really seeing the Lord’s heart for His people and getting to join with Him in that was and still is such a gift to us. . . .
“This is going to sound really crazy. I think I’ve only told one other person this. I just have this vision of our family on a Christmas card . . . this family that is a rag tag bunch of people that are of all different colors and backgrounds and abilities and giftings, and that’s how I would envision my family. There’s another one for the list.”
And as we continue to talk, I can hear Jamie laughing upstairs and the little feet of one of their dreams running around playfully above us.
Since this was originally published, the Autry family has received the green light to adopt baby Kai, and they’re just weeks away from being united as a family! But they need a little help in the meantime. If you would like to assist in making the Autrys’ dream possible, you can visit their blog to learn how. Everyone who gives will receive a 5' x 7' print designed by Marcie! To learn more, watch this short video:
Josh Garcia is a commercial photographer who landed in Jackson in 2008. With a B.A. in English from Union University in his back pocket, he’s abandoned other adjectives for “home” when describing this city. He enjoys reading, writing, photography, and cultivating community around the dinner table. #INFJ
tags Josh Garcia, Jackson TN, Marcie Autry, Our Jackson Home: The Magazine, A New Thing, fall marketplace, adoption, art, paper, Courtney Searcy, Katie Howerton, Christianity, City Fellowship Baptist Church, Claudia Lee, Ethiopia, China, family, Fig Paper Company, fundraising, handmade, home, Inkwell's Press, Autry, local art, nonprofit, event, recycling, social enterprise, True Light Childcare, craft, motherhood, Women's History Month