Praise

Praise is the motivator to keep us going when we are learning a new skill. It has to be authentic and specific. New knitters drop stitches, create uneven tension and a variety of mistakes as they try to manipulate the needles and yarn. This can result in frustration especially if they have picked a project that is not conducive to the beginner.

Scarlet, my eight-year-old granddaughter, sat down next to me with her knitting. Her Mimi had taught her to knit and chose the perfect first project. The yarn was multicolored with varying weights which hide a multitude of mistakes. It soon became apparent that there was not enough to create a scarf so we decided to make the project into a cowl.

It was easy to praise her work. I told her how much I liked the colors, the texture, and her ability to create the stitches. She immediately understood how to use the needle to stitch the ends together and we both exclaimed over how beautiful it was.

Praise gets us through the challenging spots. We stop, take a look at what is worthy of praise no matter what the situation. This becomes the encouragement we need to persevere and be brave enough to take the next step. If we look, we may be able to find something worthy of praise even in the midst of our failures. We are worthy of praise when we step out and try something that may make us uncomfortable.

I met a woman recently who had volunteered to coach her six-year-old’s basketball team. No one else had stepped up. This woman had never played basketball. She told me she went to the library and read every book she could find on the subject. I watched as she conducted a great practice with fun drills and games designed to teach the young athletes the skills they needed. The new coach was generously praised by all the adults present for her willingness to make herself uncomfortable to help the eager young players.

We know how praise works. The person who praises is expressing gratitude and appreciation for the efforts of another. When we praise God we are acknowledging the role of the divine in our lives. When we comment on the beauty of the sunrise, when we sing Alleluia, and when we say thank you for the blessings of this life, we are praising God and reminding ourselves that all things come from you O God!

Great job Scarlet, the colors are beautiful and the cowl flares perfectly around your neck and shoulders.

Heart

Wizard of Oz Mini collection

My first thought about the heart is the actual organ. I picture it on an ultrasound beating, its rhythm steady and reassuring. A cardiologist once told me, the heart wants to beat. As a chaplain in the hospital, I verified this fact many times as I sat with patients watching the monitor. The heart would continue in the midst of the most challenging medical emergencies.

We associate our feelings of love with this life-sustaining muscle that keeps us alive. It’s not surprising since love is also what we need to sustain life. We all want to be loved for who we are. When we feel lonely or isolated, we may describe the feeling as a pain we feel in our hearts. The Advent and Christmas seasons can be especially difficult for people who have suffered a loss, for people who are separated from loved ones, and for people who are ill. At church, we have a “Blue” Christmas service for people who are grieving during the Christmas season. People who attend are grateful to have their grief acknowledged.

The heartbeat is like the love of God, steady, consistent, and life-giving. We know the love of God is like this because Jesus demonstrated it during his life.

Christmas reminds us that God’s love came down and was manifested in a man who loved all people especially the ones who were ostracized, isolated, and lonely.

Christmas is a time to reach out and share the love. Give from the heart.

Fulfill

A friend gave me a pair of size 50 knitting needles. I couldn’t resist the call to try them out. I went to the store and found a super bulky yarn that was perfectly suited to the project. Knitting with size 50 needles is a workout. Each stitch requires some major manipulations but the end product was beautiful and soft.

Now that the blanket was done, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I threw it in the crib we have set up for grandchildren and it sat there.

I forgot about the blanket until I saw a request from one of my daughters-in-law on a Christmas wish list. Our twelve-year-old granddaughter, Emma wanted a bulky knit blanket for her room. She had recently moved out of the room with her younger sister into a different bedroom that she could call her own. She had picked a gray blanket that matched the decor. I immediately thought about the bulky blanket sitting in the crib. I didn’t think she would like it. It wasn’t gray and what twelve-year-old would want something Grandma had knits? But I didn’t know what else to do with it and we were planning on driving to their house right after Thanksgiving so I put the blanket in a HUGE garbage bag and stowed it in the trunk.

I decided I would offer the blanket to Emma but if she didn’t like it, I would buy her the gray one. As a grandmother, I wanted to fulfill her wish.

When she opened the garbage bag and saw the blanket she was filled with delight! She reminded me that she had gone with me to pick out the yarn. I had totally forgotten!

Her wish was fulfilled and she had been part of the process. I could have easily bought her the gray blanket on the Christmas wish list but instead, I was able to give her something we had conceived of together. We had different colored yarn in the cart and as we headed to check out, we both decided we liked the blue yarn better. Emma reminded me that her favorite color was blue just like me. Her joy was an amazing gift for me and we both felt fulfilled!

Fulfilling wishes is such a privilege but when the fulfillment comes in the form of creating something, it is even better. What kind of experience can we create with those we love this season that will fulfill their deepest desire of feeling loved?

Justice

“Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both”. Eleanor Roosevelt

Justice is about listening and working to understand the needs and desires of others. It’s about communicating our needs and desires and then working toward common a goal. This cannot happen if we are not willing to have a real conversation about our differences. Divisive and incendiary posts on social media can make conversations next to impossible.

I imagine Eleanor Roosevelt knitting and listening to conversations. I know that knitting adds an element of calmness to the environment. The steady click of the needles creates a non-anxious presence that lends itself to listening and truly hearing the ideas, fears, and questions of the other.

As we wait to celebrate the love that came down on Christmas, we can think about who we might want to sit down with and have a conversation. How can we be more open to those we may have written off because we haven’t really heard their side? Most controversial issues have a common goal but we may just disagree about the best way to get there. Imagine a world where we all worked together for the good of all people.

Maybe we should consider hosting some knit athons and really listen to each other so we can find justice for all.

Path

For a long time, I followed knitting patterns exactly as they were written. If I discovered that I had one less stitch or one additional stitch, I went into a panic and ripped out until I found my mistake. Knitting patterns caused me to be a perfectionist. Eventually, I learned that one stitch here or there didn’t really make a huge difference. I love Stephen West’s attitude about extra stitches. Don’t stress, just add one or knit two together. You’ll get there.

Knitting patterns are a path, a way to create a beautiful design but within each pattern, there are numerous choices. Pattern modifications are necessary to achieve a good fit, to create the design we want, the color that looks good next to our skin, or the neckline that compliments our style.

Life is a path with a plethora of choices. Each day we make choices that move us through life. Advent is an excellent time to reflect on where we are on our life path. Do we want to make different choices? What are our priorities? Are we living into what is most important in our lives? What do we want to keep the same and what do we want to change?

Soul

Some knitters are really into sheep. They know the difference between the breeds of sheep and they are horrified when you mix up Hampshire sheep with Suffolk Sheep. Everyone knows Suffolk Sheep don’t have good wool for yarn but Hampshire sheep do. Or do they?

When I buy yarn, I look at the ball band to see if it’s wool, alpaca, or some other kind of animal. It never occurred to me to notice the breed of sheep. Until I wandered into a yarn store in the Netherlands.

Real knitters know their wool, this woman told me as I caressed a skein of yarn in her shop. That skein you are touching is from Sandra. She held up a picture of a sheep. Sandra is a Texel sheep living on the island of Texel in the Netherlands. Each breed of sheep has characteristics that make their wool unique. This is the soul of the wool, she said reverently. I never discovered the name of the shop owner but I knew the name of the sheep whose wool I bought.

I began to pay more attention to sheep breeds and soon I was able to discern their unique characteristics, the spirit of the yarn.

The soul is the unique quality of our life force that makes us who we are. It animates us, energizes us, and generates our passions. It is the divine spark that spurs us to love. Let us honor the souls in all living beings.

Strength

I bought some Lopi yarn in Iceland. The shop owner seemed reluctant to sell it to me and kept saying it was not for the faint of heart. The yarn came in plates and looked like roving. It was not twisted or spun just fibers that had been pulled into long strands. The shop owner showed me how easy it was to pull apart the yarn causing a break in the strand. You need to put three plates together in order to meet the gauge for the sweater and have a strong fiber, she said.

I took three plates and started to wind a ball that was made of three strands. This was going to be way easier than knitting from the plates themselves. As I wound the ball, I had to be extremely careful not to pull too hard on the yarn. The good news was if I did pull apart one of the strands, they were easy to stick back together by just rolling the pieces together in my hands with a little water.

We all know there is strength in numbers. A delicate piece of fiber becomes a strong, almost unbreakable piece of yarn when combined with other fibers.

We need each other for strength. We can do more together than we can as individuals. The pandemic has shown us the importance of community. There is no substitute for the support and encouragement we give to each other. When we have the right combination of talents we can create almost anything.

Each stitch is made up of three strands of fiber and it’s the combination of fibers that creates a strong warm fabric. When we need strength, we need to ask for help. We are always more willing to give help than to ask for help. But strength comes from the community. We don’t have to go it alone.

Promise

When I make a promise to another person, I do my best to keep it. When I make a promise to myself, I tend to default. I’ve learned this about myself through the years and as a way to compensate I ask other people to help me keep my promises.

I made one of these infant socks a few years ago. The sock turned up when I was going through my works in progress. I’m going to finish it this week, I promised myself. It didn’t happen. The promise I made myself seemed insignificant. Why should I bother keeping some inconsequential promise to myself? Because breaking promises can become a habit. I found myself figuring out ways to excuse my lack of follow-through.

If I decide to make a promise to myself today, I make it public. I don’t necessarily tell everyone but I tell enough people to make myself accountable. I told my daughter-in-law, I knit a pair of socks for Theo and I’ll bring them over next week. The second sock got done.

If I commit to writing a blog post every day on the Advent Word of the day, then I do it because I made a commitment to you. Each day during Advent, I commit to writing a post using the Advent Word of the day as a prompt. The first word was “Promise”. Come back each day to see the new post and an Advent knitting update!

I do want to be able to keep a promise that I just make to myself. I think it’s an important way of showing respect. I’m working up to it. In the meantime, thank you for keeping me at the computer writing.

Cutting open the Cardigan

I bought this sweater kit four years ago. I was in Watkins Glen, NY and the yarn store there had the finished sweater on a dress form and I fell in love with the design. It was made from Lopi yarn in black, white, and gray with six pewter buttons. I couldn’t wait to cast it on the needles. When I got home, I opened the kit and discovered that the sweater did not come with the buttons and it was knit in the round and then steeked! Steeking involves knitting a few extra stitches in the same place each round, sewing over those stitches with a sewing machine, and then cutting between the sewing. The kit went into the closet.

I couldn’t bring myself to knit an entire sweater and then cut it open. I was afraid I would ruin the sweater and then all that work would be for nothing. Fear of failure keeps me from doing other things as well. But failing is how we learn. Making mistakes is how we improve our skills.

At Rhinebeck this year, I found the perfect buttons. Now I had to knit the sweater.

I watched tutorials. I knit a gauge swatch with steek stitches. I practiced with the swatch. I took my time. I went into the steeking process with the mindset that I was going to learn something from this process.

I cut between the stitches as it held. I picked up stitches and knit the button bands.

It takes courage to open ourselves up to potential failure. Not all of my experiments have worked out this well. What I learned from this sweater is not to procrastinate. Face the fear and be willing to fail. The older I get, the more risk I’m willing to take. I’ve failed enough in life to know the benefits of failure. Perfection teaches nothing.

Advent knitting update:

My yarn has arrived for the blankets I’m going to knit for stillborn babies. I choose Comfy Yarn from Knit Picks, which is 75% Pima Cotton and 25% Acrylic in Flamingo and Clarity’s colorway. The ball band suggests from a size 6 needle to nine needles which should create around 5 stitches per inch. I’m going to cast on 75 stitches. I will knit a 2-inch border of moss stitch.

Rows 1 and 4: K1, * p1, k1; rep from * to end of row.

Rows 2 and 3: P1,* k1, p1; rep from * to end of row.

I plan on continuing this pattern on the first 11 stitches and the last 11 stitches. I will knit a row and purl a row (Stockinette stitch on the middle 53 stitches). When I think the blanket is long enough, I’ll do another 2 inches of all moss stitch for the top border.

Advent starts on 11/28. Check here every day during Advent for a meditation on Adventword 2021. The first word is “promise”. The words will serve as a writing prompt each day of Advent. Also, there will be progress pictures of the baby blankets.

Knitting through Advent

For knitters, the season of Advent is a time to find a unique indie yarn dyer and sign up for a set of mini skeins. This wonderful idea comes from the more traditional Advent calendar which was used to count down the days to Christmas. Traditional Advent Calendars have paper doors to open that might reveal a verse of scripture, lines from a poem, or if you were really lucky, a piece of chocolate.

I bought an Advent yarn calendar last year and I loved opening the package of yarn each day and sometimes there was a piece of candy packed inside the wrapping. It is amazing how mini skeins in an array of bright colors can bring such joy.

Spiritually, Advent is a time of preparation and expectant waiting for the birth of Christ and his second coming. It reminds me of the times I was pregnant anticipating the birth of my own children. I knit them blankets, tiny booties, and little sweaters. So much love went into preparing each garment.

There is a special joy that spreads in the anticipation of a birth of a child. But as we know, sometimes the pregnancy isn’t viable and there is a miscarriage or a stillbirth. This happens more than we might think but no one talks about it. Women endure the pain of losing a child and then keep it to themselves as others encourage them to “try again” or get on with their lives.

We have a hard time with grief in our culture. Many of us struggle with what to say when we are confronted with this kind of tragedy. We want to find the words to make the people suffering feel better when there really is nothing to say other than “I’m sorry.” When people grieve, especially after the loss of a child, they need a listening, caring presence so they can process their thoughts. It’s hard to be present to someone’s suffering. We naturally want to help them feel better. We want to say something to magically take the pain away but the best thing we can do is be quiet and listen. It is usually the little things that make a difference, like a tiny blanket.

This Advent, I have decided to knit some tiny blankets for my daughter-in-law’s project called Carter’s Care Packages. This past summer, she delivered a little boy who was born too early to survive. This stillbirth was devasting to the entire family. Our only comfort came from the caring staff who provided us with a handmade blanket and other keepsakes. I have been so grateful to the knitter who took the time to create a beautiful blanket for a child that would never take a breath. I usually knit a baby blanket during Advent but this year I am planning on knitting four tiny blankets for Carter’s Care Packages (one blanket for each week during Advent). These packages contain items that my daughter-in-law picked to help families after a stillbirth. There are books on grief and loss, candles, gift certificates for restaurants, and a variety of other items she knew others would find especially comforting.

.If you are interested in knitting some blankets to donate to families to use for their stillborn child, here are some simple instructions. Choose a yarn that does not contain any animal fibers. I’m going to use a cotton/acrylic mix. Pastel colors work best. Cast on enough stitches to create a square that can vary in size from 12 inches up to 24 inches. Use any stitch pattern you like except lace. The blanket needs to be solid without any “holes”.

Advent starts on November 28th and ends on December 24th. Check back here every day during Advent for a short meditation and for progress on my tiny blankets.

%d bloggers like this: