Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Skinny Mitten

This weekend, while I organized some of my knitting projects, I dug into an old bag buried in the back of my closet.

I peered inside, picking up the handle of the worn and crumpled plastic with care. Multitudes of old paper yarn wrappers spilled out, and as I prodded a bit further, I saw the fuzz of an unfinished blue mitten weighing down the bottom of the bag.

Now, a little background about this mitten: It was made during the period of time shortly after I had gotten sick/disabled. I was trying to find something to do that would distract my whirling mind but not make demands on my broken body. It just so happened that I had been taught to crochet some basic stitches a few years before, and so after a scarf or two and a few squares for a baby blanket, I decided to try my hand at a "useful" project. In order to do this, I needed to ramp up my skill level to "mitten." At the "mitten level," I imagined myself cranking out multitudes of soft pairs of perfect mittens for all my friends at Christmas. After all, how hard could it be to make a mitten?

I plunged into Project Mitten full force. I began with a ball of the softest blue yarn I could find. It was fuzzy, twisted, and a deep sapphire color. Unfortunately, each stitch with this yarn was a battle. I couldn't keep my hook from snagging and tugging every few stitches, and because the yarn was so fuzzy, I had trouble seeing what I was doing. It made counting and following the pattern very difficult. However, I stubbornly pushed forward in my quest for making a legitimate article of clothing.

This, of course, proved to be ill-fated. Much to my chagrin, as I donned the mitten in preparation to sew up the side, it extended far beyond my fingers yet could barely close around my palm. It was the longest, skinniest, ugliest mitten I'd ever seen. I even tried it on my grandma who has the slimmest hands of the family. I'm pretty sure she laughed when she saw it.

There I was, stuck with a blue, bulky, cumbersome mitten that couldn't even close around my hand. I had just poured hours of blood, sweat, and tears into this useless thumbed garment, and I was faced with the dilemma of either making a second disfigured twin to match or to attempt an altogether shorter mitten which might fit properly but sadly would not match the first. The third option (that I felt unmentionable at the time) was to rip the whole thing out and start again, but after all my toil, I just couldn't face starting once more, and besides, I didn't think the fuzzy yarn would retain its integrity after being subjected to my inexperienced crochet hook again. I did the only logical thing.

I stuffed it in a plastic grocery bag, forgot about it, and made my friends little scarves instead.

So this weekend (about 4 years later), as I gingerly pulled my decidedly sad blue friend from the bonds of crumpled plastic, I recalled the history of the skinny mitten and decided that enough time had passed for me to say farewell. I considered tossing it in the trash, but for some reason, ripping out the yarn to use again seemed like more humane treatment for something that had required so much of my precious energy. I began to wiggle the loose strands in order to start the process of pulling out the overly tight stitches. It unraveled like a cap gun the faster I pulled. Pop, pop, pop went each stitch as I wound the yarn around my hand.

As the ball over my fist grew bigger, it suddenly struck me how sticky and cheap the yarn felt to the touch. It was as if strands of chemicals were leaving a residue on my fingers. I marveled at the fact that I had once considered this the "softest" yarn around.

Sometime after the mitten fiasco, I remember stumbling into a yarn store where my friend led me to my life-changing encounter with natural fiber yarn. I had at first dismissed this idea as boring since the yarn wasn't available in flashy colors or laced with fringe, sparkles, or ribbon. However, I later agreed to try it. The incredible softness and ease of use converted me on the spot. I finally saw the light of how much better natural fiber yarns could be. Instead of struggling with each stitch of acrylic yarn, my projects with genuine wool became enjoyable and fun.

As I disentangled the old, sticky, mitten mess, I suddenly saw an example of how easy it is to settle for (and even adore) an artificial substitute when I haven't yet tasted the real thing. When I started crocheting, I had never been exposed to natural yarns. I didn't understand the difference between yarn that came straight from a sheep and strands from a chemistry beaker. Now I can tell the difference instantly, and it's a big difference.

I have a history of settling for artificial substitutes in other areas of my life too - like the many years I indulged in processed foods and high-sugar snacks to boost my mood instead of "boring" whole fruits and vegetables. Food packed with nutrition was the real thing, but I passionately preferred that which was man-made. In settling for the fraudulent delicacies, I was cheating myself out of feeling better simply for the sake of instant gratification.

Of course, most importantly, I see the same parallel spiritually. I'm guilty of looking to the "artificial" here on earth to fill my needs. Like with the acrylic yarn, I once ignorantly settled for entertainment, achievement, affirmation, and relationships to keep me feeling good, pushing God to the side where I could fit him in. Even as a Christian, I didn't understand emotionally that Jesus is the true source of all comfort, satisfaction, acceptance, and love. I kept looking for these things in people and experiences, not realizing I was just setting up idols for myself.

What changed me is that ALL of those artificial substitutes failed to comfort me when troubled times hit. I had to find better answers because of the deep pain. Suffering through trial has forced me to recognize the impotence of my substitutes and to seek an emotional connection with my Savior Jesus, who sustains me and gives me genuine joy.

When Christ comes back, all the worldly things that we lived for here will be destroyed. Jesus will remain, and those who choose to trust him will taste eternal life. On that day, no substitutes will do.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
1 John 2:15-17

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