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Thursday
May072015

The Art of Undoing: What Yarn Revealed to Me About Marriage

Photograph by Britney Winn Lee

My Granny taught me how to crochet my first yarn chain when I was seven years old. This magical skill of manufacturing opened up new worlds for me to create hundreds of belts, hair ties, and jump ropes. I was a factory of linear masterpieces. 

 When I finally learned how to turn the corner into a double stitch, I begged my Mammaw (Granny’s daughter) to buy me four skeins of bold, rainbow-colored yarn — the choice of any 13-year-old girl. “I will make you a blanket if you’ll just pay for it,” I coerced. My childhood was filled with persuasions like this. 

I made lots of things with that rainbow-colored yarn throughout the next few weeks — Barbie clothes (small squares through which I stuck Barbies), coasters (small squares upon which I stuck cups), and pot holders (small squares that turned out to be not very useful at all). 

But never a blanket. 

As I have grown in stature and string-wielding skills, every so often a north wind will blow through our house and I’ll get a wild hair to start crocheting again. At first, it is therapy — like a crisp fall walk or fresh-laundry-folding. I sit on my couch and remember the rhythm of the stitches that grow coverings, and the mindless pattern helps me breathe. 

Then, without warning, my medicine quickly becomes a project for somebody, anybody: a baby blanket for the newborn, a scarf for a friend, a slouch beanie. Two slouch beanies. Seven slouch beanies for all of my cousins. 

It is not long after this problematic point that my stress-relief-turned-gift-crafting becomes yet another thing to solve, to conquer. I must make all the things. Today. 

I started working on a toddler blanket for some friends a while back, initially just to decompress and do something creative. My predictable progression didn’t take long to start, and before I could throw the brakes on that train, I was attempting to rush through the loops and knots just to finish. By row eight, I was ready to call it quits and label this endeavor just another big scarf. My fingers were bored, and I was not catching the entirety of each Doctor Who episode, what with looking down every three seconds and all. 

Tiny projects are easier. They ask less of me, demanding minuscule amounts of focus and perfection. Blankets are intimidating. They require my commitment, my care, my intentionality with each row. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve worked for months on an intended afghan only to raise it up at the end and discover a trapezoid, I would have exactly eight nickels. And eight trapezoidal “blankets” unfit for any baby shower gift. How could I stop this madness? What skill would it take to produce something worthy of celebration?

The last year has been one saturated with change for me and my husband. As practitioners of New Monastic living, we’d both moved into a high-crime neighborhood (in an act of downwardly mobile relocation) a few years ago to live amongst the intentional community we were founding. Eight months after we were married, we packed our boxes and moved one block over to work as a Friendship House family for Community Renewal International. In this role, half of our home is private quarters where we live, and half is used for community space. Our house (and nine others like it in the city) offer room for daily after school programs, monthly block parties, GED classes, baby showers, weddings, funerals, etc. We share a pantry and a fridge with thirty-two 6th through 12th graders who run through our front door each day. 

Six months after we made such a large jump, my husband left his job to start his own creative agency. As this was something we had prayed about for a long while, and as the finances were a bit more sound with us living in a ministry house, the timing seemed to be right. 

We were both growing more alive in purpose as our jobs continued to take on more fulfilling roles. I was running the Friendship House and all of its programs, Luke was creating and learning left and right about the world of business and art, and we were busy little bees coming to the end of the day with just enough steam left to watch a TV show and crash. 

Four jobs. Three moves. Two years. One marriage. A thousand changes. 

I was growing in stress and in weight. Luke was becoming depressed. We were passing like ships in the night as things began to feel “a bit off.” We’d gotten months into 2014, not having been married even two years, only to raise our blanket in the air and discover somewhere along the way it had become something a bit difficult to recognize. 

As people who have always been unashamed of counseling, we made a maintenance appointment. We needed an objective voice to help us get back on course. Each week we became residents of our counselor’s couch and learned more about ourselves and each other. God was using it to heal us. We began remembering. We were getting back into the rhythm that distraction had caused us to bypass. 

I sat in the living room cross-legged on our big chair last week, yarn in my lap. I’d once again become inattentive and impatient with the process of toddler-blanket-making, and it was evident. The stitch had become tighter, the pattern out of sorts. My creation was in the fast lane to becoming another weirdly shaped wonder, and I was annoyed. But I felt like the Spirit was offering me a lesson in this very moment: we’d been going to counseling for a similar thing, this very reality of making something we hadn’t meant to make. 

Slowly, I began unraveling each strand all the way back to the stitch that had derailed me. If I wanted this to be good, if I wanted it to last, if I wanted it to be in the end what it was intended for in the beginning, I would have to surrender to the art of undoing. A prideful power-through to the final row would not save it. A distracted eye with unwilling admittance could not avoid it. The only way truly forward was backward. Behind me. Behind us.

Every step merits intentionality and reevaluation. I have learned that a way to assess whether or not I have remained in rhythm while crocheting is to compare the row of stitches I have just finished to the foundational row with which I started. With every turn of the corner, I raise up the work and see if it is still in balance. If it is, I keep going. If it is not, I unravel just a few stitches back and adjust accordingly. This is how a blanket gets made, with ever-present intentionality.

We have loved counseling and are entirely grateful for its powerful unthreading of our motivations and habits. God is showing us that if we would just be willing to raise up our relationship at each corner’s turn and give it evaluation and care, our unthreading may not have to be so extreme each time. Yarns, like relationships, are forgiving — praise God. Willingness to do constant maintenance with much grace, as though our dynamic relationships are always either growing or dying, is what can see us through to row fifty, to year fifty. 

Currently resting on the back of our big chair where I sit crossed-legged in our living room is my very first completed blanket, which required much time, attention, backtracking, and willingness. It is warm and welcoming, and not trapezoidal, all thanks to counseling, my sweet husband, and our God who is teaching and healing us in the art of unraveling.


Britney Winn Lee lives in the Highland neighborhood of Shreveport, LA, with her husband Luke, their persnickety Collie named Jenny, their soon-to-be born first child, and the intentional Christian community to which they belong. She is the Program Coordinator for Community Renewal International's young adult intern program, The Yellow House, where 20-somethings live and learn about a New Monastic lifestyle within the context of an under-resourced neighborhood. She enjoys writing about the hard, funny, real, and honest stories that emerge from life together and is currently working on a book that compiles them. She is a periodic contributor to Tony Campolo's Red Letter Christians blog while maintain her own blog at www.britneywinnlee.com

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