I started knitting recently. It turns out the ol’ inter-webs aren’t all bad. Via the université de Youtube, some very gracious ladies have kindly schooled me in the art of “casting on” and achieving my very first stitches. Under their expert tutelage, I will now be spending my free time connecting countless yarn chains, while hopefully breaking the bonds of slavery to my phone. That’s the plan, anyway.
I’m kind of enjoying it… I think. Progress has been slow. My kids, however, are already extremely confident in my abilities. They’ve even placed special orders which seems wildly premature since I have only a week of experience under my sans-a-belt. Against my better judgment, I have promised each of them a homemade scarf. At this rate, the scarves will make wonderful college graduation gifts. That gives me a good ten years before my oldest graces the stage of the auditorium to pick up his diploma and hopefully collect his glorious handkerchief-sized scarf.
This week we made a trip to the yarn aisle at our local craft store. In the unnaturally bright lights of the big box store, the array of eye-popping colors immediately drew us in. It was like a giant crayon box had exploded. My kids excitedly walked the length of the yarn display debating the merits of one hue versus the next. There were so many different shades and textures of each color. It ignited our imaginations to the endless possibilities awaiting this knitting neophyte.
“Could you make me multi-colored ski socks?”
“You don’t even ski.”
“I know, but how cool is this color combo?”
“Let’s stick to scarves.”
While the kids perused the extensive selection, my mind wandered. My grandma had been a crocheter. For each grandchild’s birthday, she encouraged us to pick out a few skeins of yarn for our very own afghan. When that birthday rolled around, voila! A brand spanking new afghan in timeless Cleveland Browns colors. While our color choices changed depending on our ages or tastes, her crocheting remained downright prolific. Towards the end of her life, each of her offspring’s families had a slew of handmade blankets in a rainbow of colors to remember her by.
As I stood in the aisle waiting for my kids to make their choices, I remembered a story my grandmother told about how she had been similarly enticed by a collection of colorful yarns.
The child of Italian immigrant parents, she was somewhere at the top of the birth order in her large family. It was necessary for young Josephine to contribute to the household income by doing housework for wealthier families. In one such home, she came across a drawer full of yarn, all neatly ordered according to the color spectrum. Each subsequent visit to her employer’s home she felt the pull to that mesmerizing drawer. All that yarn seemed to be crying out to her to be used in some fanciful creation, yet there it remained untouched. I’m not sure if she even crocheted at that point, but it didn’t stop her from coveting each and every magnificent ball of yarn. I was about the age she was in the story when she first told me, roughly 13 years old. Having lived a life of relative comfort, by comparison, I was baffled that anyone could desire a plain old ball of yarn. But my grandma did.
One day the desire seemed too great. As an adolescent who couldn’t afford to buy herself anything, she succumbed to the temptation. She convinced herself the owner had so many she wouldn’t even notice if one went missing. It was her plan to toss the yarn from the second story bedroom, finish her work, and secretly pick up the yarn on her way home. But she didn’t take into consideration that the homeowner might decide to take a stroll in the backyard at the very moment she pitched the ball onto the grass below.
The woman sternly questioned her young charge.
“Why do you think I found one of my balls of yarn outside today, Josephine?”
Caught red-handed, she knew she would have to come clean.
“It was so beautiful,” she stammered. “I was going to steal the yarn. You have a drawer full. I didn’t think you’d miss one… I’m sorry.”
The older woman’s demeanor seemed to soften. “You’re right. This yarn is mine. But now… it’s yours. I want you to have it.”
To my grandmother’s amazement, the gracious lady placed in her hands the very yarn she had just been caught stealing.
“I want you to have it so you can make something beautiful. But from now on, if there is something in my house that you would like to have, you must ask. Always ask. Do you understand?”
My grandmother agreed heartily, but she really didn’t understand. She had never encountered such undeserving kindness before in her entire life. She was downright confounded by the woman’s illogical response to her undeniable deceit. The woman never said another word about the incident and my grandma continued to do her work without a single repercussion.
As if straight out of the opening pages of Les Misérables, this woman had granted a young girl a powerful stroke of mercy.
“Stealing isn’t right,” my grandma lovingly warned me as she ended her nostalgic reminiscence. “After that, I never stole again,” she offered. And I believed her. In fact, I think thanks to the profound mercy shown to her that afternoon so many decades earlier, a young girl’s life changed and it took a sharp turn towards goodness. My grandmother was one of the kindest, gentlest, maternal women I ever knew. What an impact she had on me. I named my only daughter after her.
The thing about mercy, especially God’s mercy is that none of us ever deserves it. Yet it is given freely and with so much goodness and love attached to it. Sometimes it’s so shocking and disorienting, we struggle with accepting it as the pure, no strings attached gift that it is. Justice is a noble and righteous virtue and we should all strive for it, but it is when we show and are shown mercy that we become like our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our hearts begin to beat in unison with His.
Lent is all about the transformation of our hearts. My goal is to enter more deeply into His sacred heart by accepting the unwarranted, unfathomable mercy He intends for me. Let us all be converted to his merciful outlook that we may offer it to those around us, especially those who do NOT deserve it. For it is in those precise instances, when it is without any merit, that it becomes divine mercy. It will be the point of departure for all my Lenten reflection, penance and prayer.
I’m as practiced at showing mercy as I am at knitting. But that won’t prevent me from trying. In both cases, my goal is to craft something truly beautiful in the days and weeks ahead. It will hopefully bring to mind my beloved grandma as a young woman whose life was transformed by merciful love. Whether creating scarves or colorful ski socks, as I link endless loops of yarn together in a tangled pattern, I will remember how we are all intricately connected and woven together by His infinite mercy and love.
God be with you this Lenten season!
“I have opened my Heart as a living fountain of mercy. Let all souls draw life from it. Let them approach this sea of mercy with great trust. Sinners will attain justification, and the just will be confirmed in good. Whoever places his trust in My mercy will be filled with My divine peace at the hour of death.”
-An excerpt of Jesus’ words to St. Faustina as recorded in her diary