As anyone with a chronic illness can tell you there are times in which finding hope seems impossible. You have a flare and one symptom turns into two symptoms. Somehow two symptoms turn into four symptoms. The symptoms start to multiply so quickly that it’s easier to state what doesn’t hurt than to list everything that does hurt. With every new symptom new limitations get placed around you and you find yourself isolated from the world around you.
Several weeks ago my vasculitis started rearing it’s ugly head in my direction. First my cheeks and nose were covered. It then continued to slowly spread until it covered my head, ears, throat, neck, and chest. That was frustrating enough. Not only does the vasculitis change how I look physically but it also causes intense neuropathy. Aside from the neuropathy my internal pain increases as well as internally the vasculitis takes hold of me. Sore throats, nose and mouth ulcers, consistent coughing, migraines, and fevers come along for the ride too.
As many of you know I find great solace in knitting and crocheting. As my physical limitations increase I found that the creative energy I spend in fiber arts brings a sense of healing to my battered emotions. So, when I noticed the vasculitis spreading into my hands I almost lost any sense of hope for my existence. It was like having everything I hold dear being torn away from me.
So, shocking as it doesn’t seem to anyone who knows me I decided to continue my crafting despite the physical pain. That was also a pretty risky choice because it meant I could be helping the vasculitis get worse by not resting my hands. I researched different techniques for every stitch to minimize hand movement. I timed my activity time so that I would stop and rest. I’d ice my hands frequently to encourage healing and pain relief. In short I did everything I could think of short of completely cutting my crafting out of my life during this time.
This time of year is a busy time for a crafter. We are more than likely preparing multiple gifts for multiple people on our lives. In fact, if anyone gets a present from me they should assume it’s handmade. It’s just who I am.
This week I started a knitting project for one of my nieces. I was so excited to buy the perfect yarn, find the perfect pattern, and spend the time I knit thinking of the beautiful woman she is becoming. Every stitch is made in prayerful thoughts for the woman she is and will be.
This project was special and attempting to work on it while dealing with my physical pain was an intense experience. My knitting speed was significantly slower. My brain power was also significantly fuzzy. Every movement was felt but I knew every discomfort was worth it. After 36 hours of dedicated knitting I had finally come to the final touches for the project. I just needed to add the edging. It was around 8 pm and I was tired. I thought to myself that I should lay down my needles and start again the next day when I wasn’t so tired. However, it was just too tantalizing to put down. I dove in with little preparation. After a few minutes I realized that I had made a mistake. I tried to go back and unknit or tink my way back to fix it. In my haste to start the edging I had not placed a lifeline in my project and that proved to be it’s literal undoing. In a matter of seconds a 2 inch by 2 inch portion completely unraveled. This was not a matter of a few dropped stitches. The entire piece was ruined.
My heart began to race as I searched my brain for a way to salvage what I had painstakingly put my heart and hope into. The more I stared the more I realized that in that moment nothing was salvageable. I lost it. I started crying and muttering and my poor parents had to sit in horrified silence as I had a complete emotional breakdown.
You see, it wasn’t that I made a mistake. It was how hard it was for me to even attempt to do the project only to watch it be destroyed in the final stitches. Hours of pain. Hours of prayers. Hours of new adaptation. Hours of hoping that I had not lost one more piece of myself. All lost in one mortifying second. What else was there to do but lay it down and grieve so that perhaps the next day I may find a way to salvage the unsalvageable?
Here’s the hard part. Here’s the part that I can barely bring myself to acknowledge. What affected me the most was realizing that I knew that project was really how I viewed myself. It wasn’t that I was the knitter. It is that I’m the one being created.
I often wonder about my Creator when I engage in the act of creation. Does my Creator feel like I do when he see’s a new pattern taking shape? Is every moment of my existence a stitch from the Divine? How many hours of pain did the Creator spend when it comes to putting me together? What hopes does my Creator craft into my very nature? How often does the Creator see me and find the seemingly unsalvageable?
These are not easy questions to sit with. They are even harder to come face to face with when you find more of your life becoming limited. How can I be salvaged? It feels so impossible. Who would want to pick that up and try again?
Yet, that next morning in high stress and apprehension I did pick that project up again. I spread it out lovingly and carefully on the dining room table and slowly began to unravel it row by row until I could see a way to make it right again. Then I slowly, gently, and with hope began to pick up each and every stitch back on my needles. I whispered encouraging words to myself and the piece as I did so. Things like, this is possible and just one little stitch at a time. Even going so far as saying, we can do this, as if the project had the ability to help in it’s own creation.
All stitches found and accounted for I sat back down in my chair and started knitting again. I’m happy knowing that my niece will still benefit from the time I spent creating with her in mind.
Now, we can leave this story here. There are plenty of truths we can glean from my knitting fiasco. In fact, I’ve been dwelling on it for a while thinking how it brought me to a closer understanding of my Creator.
However, I find I can’t leave it at that. It seems the Creator had one more truth to share with me.
I do feel isolated from the world around me when I am sick like this. The picture of what is unsalvageable in me shapes a lot of my interactions. In fact, I struggle greatly seeing any value in myself when it comes to my relationships with others. I think that it must be exhausting to be my friend. That I must seem a continuous Debbie Downer. I think my presence could only point to how broken this world is. Yet, I also logically know that community is not about me. So, I do all I can to engage and cultivate my community.
As is always the case I find that my engagement in church community is always a reflection and reminder of who I am called to be. So, I do all I can to be present even when it’s difficult. I show up even on days where I’m more purple than caucasian. I attend even when touching is painful. I manage my time so that I can be present even though my energy is failing. All in all I do everything I can to be in community despite how isolated I may feel. I don’t want you to read this as me giving myself a pat on the back. I don’t feel that I deserve one. That’s what you are supposed to do when you join community. You choose to be present. You choose to engage because community is not about you and how you feel. It’s about everyone else and how you can love and serve more wholly.
Today I went to my church. I was exhausted and as is typical in pain. I looked sick but I put effort into how I presented myself. I put on my nice clothes, worked my scarves in their elaborate braids. I dressed to minimize the physical aspects of how sick I am.
I arrived and greeted people. I stood up to sing in unity. I bowed in prayer in communion. I joined in active listening to the word prepared for us. I celebrated birthdays and mourned the hardships of others. In short, I participated in my community even though I felt pretty unsalvageable.
That alone would have been enough. That act of being a part of community would have strengthened me to move forward despite my own doubts. But today the Creator and my community gave me more than I could have imagined.
As we prepared to pray in community Deanna Larson, a woman who has taken me under her wing at church, stood up front and did something that I’ve never witnessed in all my years of church community. With incredibly loving and humbling words she recounted the struggle my health is. She said even kinder words about me than I deserved. Even more humbling she petitioned our church to hold a 24 hour prayer vigil for me. In her love and wisdom she stated that while we often wish we could carry each other’s burdens there are times when we can not. That the only thing we can do is surround each other in love and prayer.
As I sat in the pew and listened to my church community lift me up in love I felt the hands of my Creator picking me up while gently and encouragingly putting each of my stitches back onto the needle. Because in the world of the Creator nothing and no one is unsalvageable. Every stitch is made in hope. Sometimes it takes a little longer to knit life together. But the Creator shapes and molds us in love for our communities. We are crafted beautifully to be used in service to others. And every once in a while, when we feel the most pain. When we feel the most lost. When we feel the most isolated. When we feel unsalvageable our communities become the very hands that help us knit it all back together for good.
How humbling to see yourself in creation and in community. Thank you to all of you who have joined in my community. I hope that as I am knitted new once again that my usefulness will point to the beauty the Divine brings to all of us. It all feels like too much and not enough. How grace-filled it is to be that which is created. How wonderful to be unsalvageable and through redemptive love and grace be made beautiful once again!