The Sign of the Flowers (and chocolate)

On Friday, I was started to realize that I was getting sick. By the time I realized this was serious, I missed the window to see my doctor. While that was a disappointment, this was a very pleasant surprise on my doorstep.

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These were sent by my twitter friend @sporkening (Anesly), who lives in the Seattle area and who I hoped to meet earlier this month until my trip was cancelled. Sporks has a lot more going on in her life than I do, so it was a lovely and generous act to send them.

But there’s more! I told you I was sick, and this proves it. I missed seeing the chocolate that was right next to the flowers.

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For the mom update: it has been rollercoaster with many ups and downs. I am thankful for those who have reached out. It means so much.

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Baby, Baby

I love to knit for babies. First, there’s the matter that they don’t get to choose to wear what you knit them. So unless the parents hate your stuff, they’ll get worn. Second, baby items go so quickly — you can knit a whole sweater in the time it would take to knit a sleeve on an adult garment. Third, the acceptable color palette for babies is wide today. No longer stuck in baby pastels in bad acrylic! I do have one rule for knitting for babies– it must be machine wash and dry, unless one is knitting an heirloom baptismal garment. And that means Superwash wool, nylon or acrylics, or washable fibers like cotton and linen.

The latest baby I’ve knit for hasn’t been born yet, although we know that the baby is a boy. But in this case that does not mean I was stuck with blue and brown. His dad runs a small crafting business on Etsy called Phil Barbato with brightly colored stuff animals that are beyond cute, so neither mom or dad are afraid of color. Yay for fun!

I knit a small newborn hat so there would be some immediate gratification for mom and dad:

Brioche rib baby hat

This is a free pattern called the Brioche Baby Hat — which uses the half-brioche stitch, which is very stretchy. The yarn is a hand-painted sock yarn called Denali that I recently made a pair of socks out of.

But I don’t like making things like sweaters in newborn sizes because they are outgrown so fast. I knit a sweater and hat set in 12 month sizes. The cardigan is a lovely pattern called the Playful Stripes Cardigan by Alana Dakos. Note: this is a really well-written pattern and and includes a bunch of sizes and uses up scrap yarn quite helpfully. I made a couple of small modifications to this patten rav link here. The hat is my incorporation of the playful stripes for a pretty standard beanie. All in all, I’m pretty happy with how they turned out!

Playful stripes cardigan1f
Playful stripes cardigan1g
Playful stripes hat1b

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Message in Lent: Journey into Wilderness

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Journey Into Wilderness

Luke 4:1-13, Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Note: This sermon was preached at Christ Presbyterian Church in Terra Linda, where I served as interim pastor a number of years ago. What a pleasure to briefly return to the pulpit there!

Introduction

It is good to be back with all of you. Some of you I know well from years back, and others I do not know well, and for others of you, I am a relative stranger. It’s been about 8 ½ years since I was interim pastor here, and for a church, that’s equivalent to being gone for a generation. Last time I was here, I could pick up Ian, Luke did not have muscles, and some of us had less gray hair or more hair in general. I was trying to explain to someone what it’s like being an interim pastor, and finally I said, “It’s a lot like being John the Baptist to Jesus, over and over again.”

In preaching today, I am the guest preacher while Linda takes a well-deserved Sunday off. There’s a cartoon that I found on Facebook this week, and it showed a couple of people sitting in a pew, one whispering to the other, “We’ve got a sub this Sunday, and we’re going to sing the wrong hymn, pass it on.” Fortunately for me, usually guest preachers are treated better than substitute teachers at school, so I expect everyone to stick to the bulletin.

Today is the first Sunday of Lent.Linda Lane-Bortell explained about lent for those of us who gathered on Ash Wednesday. If you count days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, it’s actually 46 days, not 40. You see for Lent, you don’t count the Sundays – because each one of them is a 1st day of creation, or mini-Easter.

Ah, I hear you asking then, how could this be the first Sunday of Lent, if, as I just said, we do not count the Sundays for Lent? Yep, I hear you, and I do not have an answer. It doesn’t really make sense to me either, but that’s what the church calendar says. Clearly this issue is above my pay grade.

This year, I was hearing from a number of colleagues, who, instead of trying to encourage their congregations into coming to an Ash Wednesday service, stood on the sidewalk with signs saying, “Ashes to Go.” It’s a drive-by version of an Ash Wednesday service. I confess to having conflicted feelings about the practice, but here’s one thing that is in its favor. One priest was walking around asking if folks wanted ashes. One guy stopped, looked puzzled, and said, “What’s that?” She said, “Ashes for Ash Wednesday. It’s a sign of how broken and broken-hearted we are.” He replied, “Give it to me then. I really need it.”

If life has not been treating you well, or you feel as your heart has been broken, Lent is a time for you. If you feel like you are inbetween, or that you do not know where the next step in life will go, lent is a time for you. If you are out in the wilderness feeling alone and tempted, lent is a time for you.

Our story about Jesus’ temptation today reminds us of our human condition. All of us have experienced temptation in one way or another, and here, Jesus’ experience is one that we can identify with. This is most definitely a story about pre-Easter Jesus, the human being who breathes and bleeds just like us.

The Wilderness

We catch Jesus at the very beginning of his own discovery of who he is. We, the readers of Luke’s gospel have already known who he is for quite some time having heard from the angel Gabriel the words to Mary, and heard told of his amazing birth, and shepherds seeing the heavenly host in the sky. The Jesus of Luke knows none of this. Only when Jesus encounters the Holy Spirit and the voice from heaven saying, “you are the beloved, my son.” does Jesus appear to understand that something new and different is about to occur to him.

And directly after, he is led into the wilderness by a holy spirit.

Going into the wilderness is sometimes voluntary, but often against our will. Most of the time, like with Jesus, we are literally thrust into it by circumstances in life. The people of Israel who wandered for 40 years in the desert moaned about it almost the whole time, wishing they were back in Egypt as slaves. Elijah escapes into the wilderness when he finds that his prophetic words are putting his life in danger.

Wilderness times for us today hit in various ways. A child learns his or her parents are getting a divorce. A woman is diagnosed with cancer. A beloved spouse dies. A worker loses his job that provided for his family, and the whole family wonders how they will live, or whether they will need to move. A community finds out that a respected leader has molested people in his care. A person begins asking questions about what the meaning of life is after accomplishing the dream of a lifetime. A teenager finds herself ostracized by friends when she comes out.

The symbol of fierce landscapes such as the dry wilderness of Palestine (or US Southwest) is explored in a book by the Presbyterian pastor Belden Lane, who writes that “fierce landscapes are always preferred in achieving that “spiritual nakedness” which communion with God requires.” (The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality, Belden Lane, Oxford University Press, 1998.)

When we go “into the wilderness” we are left without distractions of the internet, or TV, or work or finishing the last task on the list; it is then that we find out that we are naked, and alone. We are focused on root issues, and issues of root identity. Jesus is trying to discover his own identity as a result of his baptism. In times of transition it is common to be figuring out anew two key questions “Who am I?” and “Who can I trust?”

But here’s the catch. Being in the wilderness means we are growing and that is when temptation comes.

The Temptations

Jesus finds himself in a similarly lonely position. Despite being called the “Son of God” in the baptism immediately preceding this passage, Jesus has no retinue of loyal followers at this point. John, who baptized him, continues on in his own ministry; Jesus enters alone. It is also strange at first reading to realize that even God is absent from this encounter, although he does have the company that other traditional wilderness leaders have had before him – the wild beasts and angels.

Belden Lane talks about the role of the wilderness is to remind us of God’s indifference.” A fierce landscape makes clear the magnitude of the creation and the creator. Now, don’t mishear this, it is not to say that God doesn’t care, but that at times in our lives God’s presence is hidden and can only be found when we give up all attempts at controlling what is to come and who God is. This pre-Easter Jesus ran up against this “Holy Indifference” just we do in the middle of our own wilderness journeys. The question for us today whether can we wait on the Holy One, being faithful when there are no clear signs?

It’s my belief that in his wilderness experience, Jesus learned more deeply how to trust God. Jesus reflected on the words of scripture that he had been taught, he also fasted and prayed and waited; these humble tools provided him with a way to respond to the tempter about the nature of the power of God in the world.

This is faith, the willingness to walk in the wilderness with the hiddenness of God, being vulnerable but mindful of our identities as children of God. Here’s an irony: when we give up our preconceptions of how God is “supposed” to act, we will find the Holy One. We are called to remember that we live in a covenant with God, a covenant that calls us to know more who God is, to know who we are. Then it will become clearer what we are to do, even in the wilderness.

Transformation in the Wilderness

I’d like to share a story about trusting in God. It comes from a 19th century dervish teacher Awad Afifi the Tunisian:

There was a high mountain in a distant land, and a gentle rain falling. At first the rain was hushed and quiet, trickling down granite slopes. Gradually it increased in strength, as rivulets of water rolled over the rocks and down the gnarled, twisted trees.

The rain fell, without calculation, and soon it was pouring, and swift current of dark water flowed together into the beginnings of a stream. The brook made its way down the mountainside, through small stands of cypress trees and fields of lavender-tipped purslane, down cascading fall. It splashed easily over stones – learning that the stream interrupted by rocks is the one that sings most nobly. Finally, the stream made its way to the edge of the desert, and sand and rock stretched out beyond seeing.

Having crossed every other barrier in its way, the stream with it’s power fully expected to cross this as well. But as fast as its waves splashed into the desert, that fast did they disappear into the sand. Before long, the stream heard a voice whispering as if coming from the desert itself, saying, “The wind crosses the desert, so can the stream.”

“Yes,” cried out the stream, “but the wind can fly!’

“You’ll never get across that way,” the desert whispered. “You’ll have to let the wind carry you.” “But how?” shouted the stream. “You have to let the wind absorb you.” The stream could not accept this, however, not wanting to lose its identity or abandon its own individuality. After all, if it gave itself to the winds, could it ever be sure of becoming a stream again?

The desert replied that the stream could continue its flowing, perhaps even one day producing a swamp there at the desert’s edge. But it would never cross the desert so long as it remained a stream. “Why can’t I remain the same stream that I am?” the water cried. And the desert answered, ever so wisely, “You never can remain what you are. Either you become a swamp or you give yourself to the winds.”

The stream was silent for a long time, listening to the distant echoes of memory, knowing parts of itself having been held before in the arms of the wind. From that long-forgotten place, it gradually recalled how water conquers by yielding, flowing around obstacles, by evaporating and becoming clouds on the arms of the wind. The stream raised its vapors to the welcoming arms of the wind, and was borne upward, carried easily on great white clouds over the wide desert.

As it neared the distant mountains on the far side, the stream then began once again to fall as a light rain. At first it was hushed and quiet, trickling down granite slopes. Gradually it increased in strength, as rivulets rolled over water, with calculation, and soon it was pouring, as swift currents of dark water flowed together – yet again – into the headwaters of a new stream.

As we begin this season of lent, we are invited into the mystery of the wilderness to allow ourselves the quiet silence, and the vulnerability to become a part of God’s transforming work, to risk the loss of an old identity to allow something new, something perhaps even magical to take hold of us.

Invitation for Reflection

This exercise is taken from a blog post by David Lose on Trust and Temptation:

First, take a small card and write down those things about which you feel confident of God’s support: maybe it’s the love of your family, or a job, or your relationship with God. These things shouldn’t be “givens” – stuff you never worry about, but rather things that matter, that you do worry about, and yet you trust God with them. Label this side of the card, “trust.”

David writes:

I think it’s important to start with something that is working because under the pressure of mistrust or temptation it’s easy to forget what trust feels like and, indeed, that we are capable of trusting. But we are, all of us, so let’s start there.

Then, on the other side of the card, write down one thing that is difficult to trust God with right now. Maybe it’s a particular relationship, or a job or school decision, or something challenging at work or home, or an uncertain future. Label this side of the card, “mistrust.”

Second, take a moment to compare these two things: why is it easier to trust God with one of them and not the other? What makes the challenging one different? Are they different, or might we be able to trust more than we thought. If you are feeling brave, you might invite people into conversation, so that we can learn from each other about what makes trusting God easier or harder.

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The Sign of the Box of Chocolates

On Saturday, a box of chocolates appeared unbidden and unsigned on my doorstep. I do not know who they came from, it is large and full of sweetness. I wondered, is this a new, modern-day miracle that Jesus is instituting, or a temptation from the devil that I must refrain from? A couple of days late for Valentine’s Day, the box’s appearance is mysterious, isn’t it?

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And so began my own couple of social media reflections, and responses.

Twitter:

@reneerico Someone left a large box of chocolates on my door yesterday, no note. Maybe God is saying, “just get fat again?” #wrongmessagesfromgod

Soon, I got my replies:
@olevia Life is like a box of chocolates. Sometimes you just have to accept ’em. And eat ’em.
@lalunkee Hush you. You’ve earned the chocolates.
@AimeesBlog Nope. Chocolate is all good. 🙂
Kit Haener Argilla I say the chocolates are an acknowledgement of what an awesome daughter you are.
Thanks, Kit, that one definitely hit home for me.
A similar theological debate on the goodness of chocolate boxes was opened on Facebook.

Facebook:

Renee Rico Yesterday there was a large box of chocolates on my doorstep when I returned from the hospital. I am sure it is a sign I should get fat. Oops, wrong message for Lent.
Again my friends weighed in on the sign of the chocolate box.
Nicole Barnabé Nah, it’s a sign that you should take pleasure in simple ways at this time.
Suzanne Artley what Nicole said…
And all the way from France
Rebecca Kuiken No, it is a sign that God loves you no matter how much chocolate you eat … or share!
See how she has adopted the French attitude? This is, apparently, what pastors in France think. All of them.
So, blog readers, what do you say about the sign of the box of chocolates?
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Another Whirl

Well, mom ended up in the hospital last night — more seizures. This time even though I was at home I managed to get to the rehab place by the time the paramedics showed up. We all rendezvoused at the hosptial, where it took an hour to be to see her in the ER. PRO-tip, if you are the medical power of attorney, so say. Apparently I would have gotten right in if I’d said that.

This excitement was after a nice day –Marin was springlike yesterday, although getting an oil change and new battery aren’t sexy, they can be ok when the weather is cooperating. Marie came down and we walked to the settling ponds for the sewage treatment plant next door, and not many birds around. Then we saw mom and brought cheer, then went to dinner. It wasn’t until about 9:00pm that I got the call about mom.

It always takes a while to get admitted, and I didn’t make it home until 3 am. I slept, and mistakenly took meds that aren’t supposed to coincide, and happily I was only groggy in the morning.

Now, at bout 4:30 pm on Saturday, I’m fading. Mom is on antibiotics because they are concerned she might have aspirated something in the seizures, and working on a medication adjustment. Her neurologist is in Tahoe, but checking in with the hospital doctors.

Of course this hit on a weekend with actual plans, including preaching tomorrow. Fortunately the sermon is done, so I’m down to the littler pieces of the service. And I had hoped to help Judy unpack boxes at her new place, but I have a rain check on that activity.

None of the hoo -ha does good things for my body, so I’m hoping to eek through this piece, because at some point I’ll need to think bout my livelihood, but with current events, that is getting pushed pack. I am grateful for some clergy friends who’ve passed along my name to some opportunities, it’s a nice counter to the other dysfunction going on.

And the knitting , well, yes, there’s been time for knitting, but it falls into the super-secret category at the moment, so there’s not much to tell.

One thing I am really hoping for -that I get to spend the day at Stitches West next Friday. It’s only one day, and I will have coped with moms discharge (I pray), a church meeting that is necessary, an endoscopy and a colonoscopy. Surely God could let me have one fun day in there?

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It’s Dangerous. Really.

Ok, with the weeks of running from one emergency to dealing with Alice in Wonderland things now seeming to be done for the moment, I decided that I was going to start cleaning up the pig-sty apartment after a couple of months of chaos and longer term ignoring of things needing to be done.

I took a few bags of clothes to Goodwill, along with two cordless phone sets that I don’t need and have been sitting around too long.  I went and bought TurboTax (thanks, Federal tax regulations for clergy, for making it so I cannot file with the free e-file on-line but subsidize said system by having to pay $50 for the software I need), and came to try to clean up more. I have simple goals, like: no clothes that I haven’t a hope of wearing in the future, which has gotten to be a smaller universe since I lost about 20 pounds over the last year. Fortunately I buy classic styles that tend not to go out of style quickly.

It turns out that cleaning up is dangerous.  Take my paper recycling.  Tomorrow is the pick-up at my apartment complex, and this afternoon I took down some of the newspapers to recycle (I only pay to get the Sunday paper, it’s a thing for me), but I still had all other non-shredded stuff.  The container was overflowing (remember that chaos bit?), so I put some into a paper grocery bag, and carried both down to recycling, which was dark by then, and the container was already pretty full, so I had to remove some of the other paper bags to put my non-bagged stuff in, and managed to hit my head on the corner of one of the containers.

And that’s not all. I was trying to get crap things off the floor of my office/guest room, and managed to tilt  one of my fiber containers so that everything came out onto the floor while I was on the kitchen step-stool. Ok, getting pelted by light, fluffy fiber is not that painful physically, but I can tell you that psychically, this was very disabling to go through.

Today I’ll start again, but perhaps I should be wearing more safety equipment. Or make my cats do it.

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Quest for Sock Yarn – Yet Again

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I really would like to be able to spin some yarn that is appropriate for knitting socks.  Sock yarn is way more tricky to accomplish because of the requirements for a sock that will last more than a few wearings. I tried to do this here, and then again here (at least I did an original design for a cowl – pattern coming soon!)  Obviously neither time my attempts to make sock yarn worked. Smarter people would give up, but at this moment I appear to be the agitator of hopeless tasks, so I’m returning to this now.

Partly it is the realization that being in-between jobs will, for the foreseeable future, hamper the acquisition of more yarn (not like I don’t have a yarn stash that can keep me busy for a while, but you know, a knitter can get a little ansty with merely the shadow of the thought of no yarn coming in the door).  I realized that I have bought some lovely fiber – some at fiber festivals a while ago like Rhinebeck, and then again last fall (winter) at SOAR.  So I have plenty to choose from, and then there’s the good thing about spinning that it makes for that much more fiber entertainment to get to the final product!

One fiber bump in particular is appropriate for this new attempt – Abstract Fibers in the Rhapsody colorway, fiber content is : Merino 40%, Superwash Merino 40%, and Silk 20%. And the colorway is so yummy!

Abstract merino silk blend

Now some folks may be wondering about that odd mix of fiber, specifically “regular” merino with the superwash merino – apparently they used this mix because the dye takes differently in the two different types of merino. It was done for the dye and not for any other reason according to the company.

I did a bit of a test spin for a 3-ply yarn, and ooooh, it is so great. It might even be sock yarn.

Rhapsody fiber test spinning

And I’m using that lovely KCL Woods multiple shaft spindle that I truly love!

Abstract rhapsody fiber 1a

A little blog business: I ran into a colleague today who was unsure about commiserating with me after seeing my rant on this blog  Here’s the deal as I see it: if you care enough to follow up with real questions and concern, that’s good to me.  Another who hadn’t seen my post asked if I could be on his list of prayer concerns, and he’s such a gentle sweet soul who really asked how I was, with lot’s of follow-up questions, that of course I wanted to be on the list.  I guess my point is this: if all you want to do is the church equivalent of a Facebook “like,” just don’t. I’m totally up for other options.

Mom is still very up and down. Yesterday was a bad day. This morning she already had ups and downs. She told me this week, “I need you to tell me that I’ll be ok.” And she will – she is very much God’s child and much loved by those who know her best.  But I don’t think that’s what she was asking. I think she was asking will the rest of her life seem ok to her. And I have a lot of doubts about that side of it.

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up in the air

Life has taken a few turns, shall we say, and the best description of my life is up in the air.

For those who were turned off by my last post, well, it was written in context, and not all of you are privy to all of the context, but let me summarize briefly:

My mom has been sick off and on, a rollercoaster ride (those of you who’ve done this with seniors know what I mean) since Thanksgiving week.  I’m pretty much on my own coordinating things, and even when you pay people to do stuff, you still end up coordinating and following-uo and being responsible when things get mixed up.  When you’re the daughter, there’s really no back-up.

Most recently, my mom was in the ER and/or hospital 3 times in the last three weeks, and last Sunday, she got seizures on her 91st birthday (fortunately she got her chocolate cake in first), and spend 7 days in the hospital. It’s been really hard. And I don’t know where the best place for her to live is now, and I cycle among a variety of options, sometimes all in the same day.  Now she’s in rehab, and looking better thankfully.  But where she’ll end up is up in the air too.

Another part of my up in the air-ness is employment.  I’m no longer working at the church I was at, and that’s a really long story which has its very own Alice in Wonderland moments, some of which happened in the middle of said ER/hospital visits.  So my own next employment (other than my very fun water aerobics gig at the YMCA) is up in the air too.

Health: not great. Pro-tip: sometimes stress can help you lose weight without really trying, although I would recommend that you seek medical attention before losing too much. The upside: everyone thinks I look great!

I have many, many folks who are genuinely supportive and also provide amazing help when I need it.. I am learning who my friends are, and fortunately I have plenty!

Fortunately, the knitting is not up in the air.  I’ve finished some lovely things while sitting in ERs and hospital rooms.  First a pair of Humming Bird Socks in Denali yarn by Pagewood Farms. I love the stitch pattern, and the yarn is very yummy and cheerful:
Hummingbird socks

I also finished (except for the end weaving in) a cowl to match my Symetrie beret in the lovely BFL Handspun from Into the Whirled.

Symetrie cowl

And now I’m working on finishing a pattern for a cowl I improvised ages ago, and knitting a super-secret (not so much) baby set for friends who will love lots of color for the baby boy coming into their lives soon.
Playfyl Stripes Cardigan

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