Friday, October 28, 2005

teach me

I went looking for needles a few mornings ago. Circular knitting needles. I'd come across a must-have hat online and copied the instructions. When I read that it required either circular needles or double-point needles, I'll admit to a gulp. That would mean I'd have to step out of my safe zone and enter the realm of serious knitters. I wasn't quite sure I was ready for such a graduation. But the hat was oh-so-cute. Julie Roberts had worn a clone of that hat in some movie--apparently a big selling point, since her name was even in the title of the pattern. So off I went.

When I arrived at Michael's in Lynnwood, I stood and stared at a vast offering of circular needles and felt the edge of panic stealing over me. The pattern said to get size 10.5, 16" needles, but all the ones hanging on the display were 29" long. Would the extra length matter?

I glanced right and left, the way you do when you're lost in a foreign city and hoping for a friendly face--a face belonging to an English-speaking helper. To my left were nothing but fake evergreen trees and serene, head-moving plastic deer. To my right, though, was a woman. She had a couple of skeins of pink yarn in her cart, which made my heart leap with gladness.

"Do you knit?" I asked. Not, "Excuse me ..." or "I hate to bother you ..." Just, "Do you knit?" It sounded abrupt even to me, but she overlooked my forwardness. Maybe she heard a little panic in my voice.

"I do," she said. She wheeled her cart toward me and I saw a toddler peek out from behind. Jenny (I was to learn shortly) grinned at me and showed a third skein of pink yarn in her chubby hands.

"I want to make this hat," I began, and then launched into my explanation. The woman first told me I couldn't use the 29" needles, described what would happen if I tried, and then gave me directions to a high-end yarn shop in Mill Creek where I could find a nice offering of right-sized circular needles. But then she shifted gears. "You know, since you have to change over to double-point needles to finish off the hat anyway, you might as well use them for the whole hat and just skip the circular needles altogether." She reached over to the rack, selected a package of bamboo 10.5 double-pointed needles, and pulled out four. Then she grabbed one of the skeins of pink yarn from her cart, found one end of the yarn (a feat all on its own, let me tell you), pulled out a long length, and began to cast on to one of the bamboo needles. I watched her fingers fly, mesmerized by her swiftness.

"I've never casted on that way. How are you making it look like that?"

She slowed down and gave me an impromptu lesson. "You drop the tail end of the yarn down here ... with practice you'll learn how much to drop ... and hold both lengths of yarn between your thumb and forefinger. Then you swing your fingers up and through like this ..."

When she finished, I was staring at the most beautiful row of cast-on stitches I'd ever seen. I wanted to say "thank you" and "good bye" right then and there so I could go sit in a corner and practice casting on, but there was more to learn.

She then divided the row of stitches into three sections, loaded them each on a bamboo needle, and launched into a a complicated and frightening procedure for turning those three needles into a triangle of knitting. I used the opportunity to talk to her about picking vs. throwing (I'm a thrower; she's a picker. She converted me on the spot). The longer I watched her knitting that triangle, the more resigned I became to the fact that I probably wouldn't be sporting a Julia Roberts hat any time soon. But I appreciated the time she took with me. And I couldn't wait to go practice casting and picking.

While we stood knitting (her) and talking (me), Jenny had a party. That two-year old managed to fill an entire Michael's cart with a rainbow of yarn--skeins in every hue, every texture, every size. She also felt her mother needed six copies of the same knitting book, which she placed carefully in the front area of the cart. Her mother and I put all that yarn back while we finished our discussion. I had noted that she wore a beautiful black, red and orange scarf and commented on it. She not only told me what size needles she used and how many stitches each row contained, she walked me around the corner and showed me the exact skein she bought to make it. "You'll be done in an hour," she encouraged, before collecting Jenny and heading toward the front of the store.

"What's your name?" I called.

"Nancy," she answered.

I thanked Nancy ... and thanked God for sending me a helper when He did.

Back home, before sitting down to practice my new casting-on style, I checked my email. I had a digest waiting from one of my writing groups, and one of the posts caught my eye. The topic for that digest was "mentoring," and one of the women wrote, "I've always had to seek them out. The very women I value as mentors often don't see themselves as mentors."

I smiled when I thought about Nancy, and how she had no idea, when she left the house that day, that she'd spend twenty minutes mentoring a shaky knitter in the aisle of Michael's. But that's what she'd done. I'd sought her out, and she'd willingly shown me what she knew.

A bit later that same day, I learned that a young friend of mine wanted me to disciple her. "I've been praying about it a long time," Brittany said. "I like your perspective, I like that everything you teach centers on grace, and I want that in my life."

While Brittany spoke, I remembered the moment she entered the world. I was there with her parents, Dan and Lisa. The birth was difficult, compounded by an illness Lisa suffered that had gone unnoticed by her obstetrician. Brittany didn't breath at first. Her color was startling and unnatural. When the Apgar reading came back at only 2, the nurse called a "code blue," and the room quickly filled with white-coated people. Lisa--blissfully unaware of the drama--talked to one nurse about the pain she was feeling. Dan and I prayed. It wasn't until much later, long after the doctor and nurses had stabilized Brittany, that we let Lisa know why so many people had been in her room. By then, the room was filled with happier occupants--balloons and flowers, teddy bears and little pink outfits. By then, Brittany's two older brothers, Broc and Kam, had been in to say hello and poke at her feet. By then, we were laughing at the fact that of the six girls in the nursery, five were named Brittany. But none, I'm convinced, rivaled our Brittany.

She's a beautiful young woman--someone I'm proud to have such a long history with. And now that she's entering a new chapter in her life, and she's desiring a closer walk with the Lord, I feel humbled and honored that I get to share this part of her journey. I won't pretend to have all the answers she needs, but I'll sure point her to the One who does.

After all, He loves her even more than I do.

11 Comment:

At 10/28/2005 5:14 PM, Blogger Cora had this to say ...

I'm convinced, Shannon, that some of the best mentoring can come over a game of cards, knitting together or driving to the airport. I am impressed by Brittany and am excited to see what the Lord is going to do in her life. I'm sure you will have wise words for her.
By the way, I have no doubt the hat you are knitting for me will be beautiful!

At 10/28/2005 7:22 PM, Blogger QueenBee had this to say ...


At 10/28/2005 7:44 PM, Blogger Macromoments had this to say ...

Hey Shannon...great post! I've missed you.

Maybe you could disciple Brittany and teach her how to knit at the same time. Hmmmm?

At 10/28/2005 9:18 PM, Blogger Loni had this to say ...

I just found your blog - what encouragement and realness. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to learning more about your books. :) Loni

At 10/29/2005 1:24 PM, Blogger Bill and Glory had this to say ...

Shannon, it is nice to see you here again. I agree with you about mentoring: I have sought mentors for different phases of my life and have been blessed by the wisdom gained by them.

Happy knitting!


At 10/29/2005 1:37 PM, Blogger YellowRose had this to say ...

Wonderful post....Missed you! I've never knitted...but you have made me curious! ;)

At 10/29/2005 9:21 PM, Blogger Jimmy had this to say ...

Hey Shannon, good to see you back!
I guess we guys do our mentoring over a paintball game or ultimate frisbee. The only required element is food! I am a leader of a 12th grade guys small group that meets at 7am for breakfast each Tuesday. The fact that these guys will get up that early before school and come to share and learn from each other is a blessing to me. We share accountability with each other. Hmmmm, reckon how they would respond if I brought in some knitting needles and yarn next week?
My best to your family-

At 10/30/2005 6:14 AM, Blogger Pam had this to say ...

Nice to have you back, I have missed your wisdom and encouragement.


At 10/30/2005 5:36 PM, Blogger Darlene had this to say ...

A little boldness is all it takes to make a friend.

At 10/30/2005 6:21 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Hi all!

Cora, I'm excited, too, about Brittany. She sure is a beautiful girl--both inside and out. I can't wait for our first meeting this week. :) And about the hat ... uh, did you NOT understand that I'm overwhelmed by the whole triangle-knitting procedure??

Thanks for the nudge on the previous post, Cindy. I was actually writing this post when you wrote your comment. :)

Hi there, Bonnie! Thanks for the "welcom back." :) Good idea about knitting with Brittany. I'll have to ask her!

Hi Loni! Nice to see you again. Hope you and your family are doing well.

Glory, I'm going to have to run over and read about the baby, I KNOW you've had that child by now.

Hi Yellow Rose! You definitely should consider knitting. I love it.

Jimmy, it's so funny you'd mention paintball. Friday a friend came over and invited Dave to join them Saturday morning. I really, really want to do it myself--but I'll have to wait until Dave has a free weekend (which doesn't happen often.) Sounds like your youth kids are really growing. I'm impressed that they're so committed! You seem like a really wonderful mentor to them, Jimmy. Hope you're doing well!

Hello, Pam--and thanks :)

Hi Darlene! Good point. :)

At 11/01/2005 9:01 AM, Anonymous Joe Cool Cowboy Poet had this to say ...

Hello Shannon, just dropping by to see how you are doing. Things are slowly returning to normal here and He is keeping me sane while missing my little kidlets who are growing up so fast. So just haven't had much time to visit around lately so wanted to let you know things are alright. Keep smiling, hugs and love, Joe


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