women of a certain age are like sunflowers; they know how to turn their faces to the sun.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Comfort Ye

" Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God."
- Isaiah 40:1-11

Thank you for the many voices of support that brought warmth to a chill weekend in my household. All are appreciated. All are valued. All matter a great deal to me.

And all bring comfort.

Comfort is an interesting condition, a double edged sword. Generally speaking, we, as a society, place a high value on our creature comforts. (Just ask La-z-boy - they built a whole company around it.)

We live our lives snuggled deep within the cocoon of our homes, our hand knit afghans, our cashmere sweaters, our hand spun socks. We settle deeper into our prejudices, relax our sense of outrage, and deal with the world by remote control.

And therein, lies the problem. If we get too comfortable, we run the risk of inertia taking over.

Yet, if we aren't comfortable enough, we lose our focus, our ability to cope with our world, in favor of our preoccupation with what is making us uncomfortable.

Usually comfort is desirable. Often it acts as an inhibitor. And sometimes it is the only thing that holds you together.

When my mother was dying, I would take long, hot baths every night. My husband would pour me a Baileys on the rocks, and I would sink into a half hour of fragrant, warm, relaxing comfort. It was the only way I knew to get past my anxiety to the land of nod.

A dear friend taught me the technique of breath prayer during that same period. I was to pray (or meditate. Take your pick.) until a phrase rose within me that summed up what I needed at that time. Then I was to silently repeat this phrase (or mantra) to myself as I breathed deeply - half of the phrase on my indrawn breath and half on the exhalation.

My phrase was:

Lord, hold me
In your peace

Above all else during that period of my life, I sought comfort - the comfort a child feels when rocked on a mother's lap. I wanted God to hold me, when my mother couldn't.

And I have placed a high premium on comfort ever since. I fought depression for several years. It began to ease when I found my "safe places," the places where I felt comfort-able, i.e. able to be comforted. These places included my husband's arms, the office of a trusted therapist, and during my morning hours, the embrace of my favorite chair.

I made myself a safe place in my home, by taking a chair that only I sat in, adding a soft woolen throw, a sweet smelling candle, a bible perched atop a stack of books full of wisdom, an icon gifted to me by a dear friend, and a steaming cup of good quality coffee. Warmth to me is an important part of comfort.

The week my mother had her biopsy and we discovered the brain tumor was the coldest week in Indianapolis history. My car battery gave out on me in the hospital parking lot, so I drove my mom's car back and forth to the hospital, along with my brother David.

Her heater was malfunctioning (timing is everything, isn't it?) and I have vivid memories of using my debit card at every stop light between home and hospital to scrape off the ice forming on the inside of the windshield from the condensation of our breaths, so the driver would have a minuscule window of visibility from which to peer out at the cold, cruel world.

That was the week I decided I agreed with Dante. Hell is cold, not hot. Heaven is blessed warmth.

When Greg introduced me to the psychological concept of warmth, which is essential to establishing an alliance (a key concept in our book, Soulful Parent, Soulful Teen) I understood immediately. Warmth roughly translates into a feeling of safety.

As I sat helplessly on Saturday morning, I was comforted by my knitting. Sedona furled out across my knees, keeping me not only physically warm (the thermostat was still at its automatic setback nighttime temp. of 60 degrees and I wasn't going to mess with the program, being climatologically challenged and all.) but also mentally, providing a distraction and a comforting sameness to its simple four stitch repeat. Knit, purl, knit, slip...

I could watch it take shape and fulfill my vision, even if I could not predict the outcome for my family. I could count the rows, even if I could not count my blessings at that precise moment (having lost sight of them momentarily.) I could let the work flow freely, even if I felt like my hands were tied.

How many times have we turned to our craft, when we needed comforting? We have sat in waiting rooms, at bedsides, on couches waiting for our children to return home: from dates we didn't know, from parties we didn't trust, from wars we didn't start. For centuries we have turned our hands to work and hearts to God. We have comforted ourselves by the performance of our task, and others by the product of our hearts.

And the world is a better, warmer, safer place because of it.

Last night I gathered my family round about me and fed them with the sacramental act of cooking. As God has fed us through communion, so I sought to sustain, to nourish, to warm & comfort my family, to draw close that which had been torn asunder. My mother's Swiss Steak recipe and my own Banana Pudding. I know it doesn't look like much, but comfort food doesn't come any finer.

Banana Pudding
3 T. cornstarch
3 T. sugar
pinch of salt
1 & 1/2 c. milk
1 13 oz. can evaporated milk
4 egg yolks
1 t. vanilla
1 box Nilla Wafers
2 lg. bananas, sliced
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
8 oz. whipping cream

In medium saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugar, & salt. Stir in milk & evaporated milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until pudding coats spoon (approx. ten minutes)

In separate bowl, beat egg yolks; stir in 1/2 c. of the pudding. Then empty contents of bowl back into the remaining pudding in the saucepan. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until pudding thickens (approx. three minutes.) Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, cover surface with plastic wrap, and cool in refrigerator until room temp (approx. one hour)

In 1 & 1/2 quart baking dish, cover bottom and sides of pan with wafers. Then layer on the bananas. Pour in cooled pudding to cover. In a separate small bowl, blend brown sugar with 2 teaspoons hot water to form a thick paste. Dollop this atop the pudding and draw knife through to make marbleized swirls and evenly distribute sugar. Garnish with whipped cream.
May you take comfort today, wherever you find it. Shalom.


teabird said...

Blessings, friend.

Melissa! said...

The ability to describe your feelings so eloquently is truly due to your connection with yourself, your surroundings and with God.
I am touched by your words - so beautiful.
Sending more warmth your way.

Ann said...

It's wonderful that you can take comfort in knitting - if only I knew how to knit 9 years ago - I would have found comfort during the long cold hours in the hospital sitting with my sister during her chemo treatments & her dying days. Bless you for your loving words!

Donna Lee said...

Sandi, the editor of Knitting Daily said it best when she said "sometimes we knit our knitting and sometimes our knitting knits us". I'm glad you were able to find some comfort. I will be thinking of you with good positive energy flowing in your direction.

Lark said...

I need to know more about Soulful Parent, Soulful Teen. Please email me.

Opal said...

I love how you've described how comforting knitting can be. You just took the words right out of my mouth.

And your Banana Pudding looks very very comforting. :)