I’m proud to post a talk delivered by my mother, Christie Frandsen, on January 16, 2016, at the Affirmation conference in southern California. Christie is a longtime seminary and institute teacher, and a scholar of ancient scripture. She is married to Russ Frandsen and is the mother of eleven children and grandmother of 18. Many thanks to Affirmation for planning and hosting a marvelous conference.
My beautiful brothers and sisters, I am humbled and nervous to be speaking to you this morning. I am not at all sure I have anything I can teach you because you are the ones who have been teaching me and have helped me so much the past 2 years, and I thank you so very much for that.
But lucky for me and for you, the theme of this Conference is knitting, and even luckier, I was asked to talk about being a mother, and it just so happens I do know a few things about knitting and mothering!
Let me start with some knitting lessons. How many of you know how to knit?
I first learned to knit when I was 9 years old (54 years ago – yikes!) and was a Gaynote in Primary. Yes, my friends, you heard right! Back in those ancient days, for the last three years of Primary, girls were called Gaynotes, Firelights, and Merrihands. There is just so much to love about that, isn’t there?
In the small branches of the Church where I grew up, when you were a Merrihand, you learned how to crochet, when you were a Firelight you learned how to cross stitch, and those adorable Gaynotes all learned how to knit. I can still see every detail of those bright pink slippers that I made and can still feel the “Gaynote pride” at what I had accomplished!
I remember thinking even at that young age what a clever, amazing invention knitting was. Just by manipulating these two needles in the right way, you can transform single stands of yarn into beautiful, useful, life-enhancing articles of clothing like socks and sweaters and mittens and blankets that can bring warmth and protection and beauty to our lives. And some brilliant person figured out how to do that a long time ago. Archeologists have found knitted artifacts in Egypt dating from the 3rd century. The word “knit” comes from the word “knot.” In our modern world we often think of knots as undesirable, bad problems to be undone, but the right kinds of knots can save lives, and they can create something as beautiful as this: my Grandma Hansen’s afghan, which she lovingly made for each of her grandchildren when we married. After she died we discovered a box filled with afghans for all the younger grandchildren who had not yet married. What an incredible knitting project!
I’m involved in a knitting project right now that is even more challenging and time consuming and precious to me than Grandma Hansen’s afghan. And here is the yarn I’m using for my project:
My knitting project? Knitting all these hearts together into one beautiful family.
How many strands of yarn am I working with? See if you can do the math:
My husband and I started the knitting project 43 years ago with our two little strands. We brought 11 children into our family; 2 of our little boys have already gone from us way too soon. 6 children are married, so I now have 6 more in-law children in my basket of yarn, each bringing different textures and colors to add richness and new dimensions to our family. And I have 18 beautiful and brilliant grandchildren, with another one on the way – and hopefully more yet to come! Just a few weeks ago, 3 more very special pieces of yarn were added to our family blanket when my oldest son took in 3 sisters as foster children. What beautiful new patterns they will add! And with any luck my 3 unmarried children will someday be marrying, adding even more strands of yarn to this project!
What is the grand total so far? 41 strands of yarn to keep hold of and to try to keep inter-connected, close and tight, with no holes, no missing pieces of yarn. THIS IS A BIG, HARD, COMPLICATED KNITTING JOB!
It was made even more interesting 2 and a half years ago when THIS piece of yarn, my 9th child Christian, finally had the courage and faith and hope to come out and show his true colors and his authentic texture and add that piece of rainbow colored yarn that adds so much color to our family blanket.
If I recall correctly, the very first thing I told my son when he told me he was gay was that he was born into the right family, and he was. He is blessed to have a whole tribe of siblings who love and cherish him even more, now that he can openly be the person he really is. I believe that our hearts are knit together even tighter and better because Christian had the courage to come out. And especially, I am a much, much better person because of my gay son and for that I will be eternally grateful.
But it is also true, in a family as large and complex as mine, with such a rich and wonderful variety of personalities and opinions, that there are bound to be challenges. We have some whose attitudes and opinions and words are causing tension that is now pulling at the bonds connecting us and could even rip a hole in our family blanket if I am not watchful.
There is nothing that I want more than to keep this family of mine together.
The problem, of course, with my knitting project is that, unlike the yarn Grandma used, all my pieces of yarn have minds of their own! They can decide if they want to be knitted in or not. They can and do start pulling away on their own, and that makes knitting very challenging indeed! Some might even say it is impossible, and that I am a fool for thinking I can hold all these strands of yarn together. And they might be right. It may be that I will not be able to keep my family blanket from falling apart, no matter what I do. But I am going to do all I can, and the good news is that there ARE things that can be done when a piece of knitting gets a hole – even a very big one like this one in my grandma’s afghan.
So now, here are a few lessons in how to repair a hole.
I will start by reminding all my pieces of yarn why it is we really do want to be knitted together – that together we can be so much more and do so much more good for each other and for this very needy world than any of us can do alone. My life is better and I am more useful when I am knitted together with others, and so is everybody’s. To be a part of this crazy family makes life very complicated, it is true – but what can a single piece of yarn do by itself?? What possible good could all these unattached strands of yarn do if I let this hole get bigger and bigger?
Thankfully, even a hole as big and ugly as this can be repaired with time and care:
- First, carefully reconnect the strands that have stretched far apart by filling in the gaps of understanding. The best way that I know to do that comes from one of my favorite moments in the Book of Mormon found in Mosiah 25. A whole bunch of different groups of people have just arrived in Zarahemla: the Mulekites, the Nephites, Alma and his people, and Limhi and his people. Each group comes from a very different background, each has been through harrowing, life-altering experiences that none of the others know anything about, and each group hopes to make Zarahemla their home and find love and acceptance and purpose together. King Mosiah has the daunting task of knitting all these different people into one cohesive, loving society. Do you remember what he does? It is brilliant – he simply tells the stories of each of these groups of people so that they can all feel true empathy for each other. He fills in the gaps between them with their stories of challenge and adversity, failures and triumphs – and it works! Each heart is stretched wide with love and appreciation for the trials the others have endured. They create a Camelot right there in Zarahemla where once there were gaping holes between them. My brothers and sisters, share your stories and really listen to other’s stories. That’s how you repair the holes. And may I suggest that personal face to face conversations work much better than Facebook encounters.
- Do not put undue strain on threads you know are weak. Do not push or pull unnecessarily, but be gentle and careful and let that strand get stronger and more flexible before you push it too hard. Repairing holes is not a quick process. Holes can get worse when we impatiently force strands of yarn that are not ready to be stretched that far. And we should be willing to go more than half way to bridge the gap. If you are having a conversation with a family member and it becomes clear that he/she is not ready to stretch his/her mind and heart, back off and don’t force anything and listen more than you talk. And continue the conversation on another day, and another one after that, and another one after that.
- Meanwhile, strengthen those weak strands by encouraging interaction and especially service and sacrifice for each other. Time and patience and an increase of love can do a lot to strengthen a weak place. One of the most beautiful examples of this comes to us from Tom Christofferson who made a point of serving side by side with saints in his Ward, every opportunity that came, as he returned to Church activity. Sure enough, hearts and minds were changed, love flourished, and lives were knitted together.
This is a lot of work and it takes time and careful, patient effort. What if I just do not want to invest that much time and do that much work? What will happen if I do not fix this hole in my blanket? If I put this blanket away in the closet and never use it, the hole will probably stay just as it is and not get any worse – and the blanket will never be of use for anything. If I use the blanket as it was made to be used, the hole will surely grow bigger and bigger and soon the blanket will be ruined and all of Grandma’s work will be wasted.
But if I am willing to do the work, that hole can be repaired, and the amazing and wonderful thing is that place where the hole once was can actually become the strongest and most beautiful spot on the blanket.
I believe we can be successful in knitting our hearts together in love and unity and I base that belief on some evidence from history – those times in the Book of Mormon when people were actually successful in creating an ideal community of God’s children (See Mosiah 18 and 4th Nephi, in particular). In re-reading those passages, I found some recurring patterns in the kinds of things they did that created that kind of pure and beautiful love, the kind of love we want in our families and in our Church. I would like to end with mentioning just four:
- These were all covenant relationships, which meant Christ was there too. He is the 2nd needle that makes knitting different from and better than crocheting. When we bring Him into our relationships, I know we will be far more successful in knitting our hearts together.
- There was no contention, which did NOT mean there were no differences of opinion or disagreements. There is room in our blanket for even deep differences, and we shouldn’t just tolerate differences but actually welcome them and cherish them. Those differences can make our final product even more beautiful and strong! Don’t insist on uniformity of opinion, just unity of hearts. Let me repeat that: we do not need uniformity of opinion, just unity of hearts.
- There were “no manner of –ites,” and to me that means that the identity that we share together must be our primary identity and must supersede any other individual identity that we might have. This is the very essence of being knitted together and this is what makes our lives better and more useful together than separate.
- These Camelot or Zion experiences all came directly out of times of terrible, tumultuous adversity, so much so that I am left with the clear conviction that the best knitting only happens in times of trouble and opposition. So let us not despair when storms of opposition arise on all sides, but let’s pick up our needles and start knitting!
This weekend we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday and we all remember the dream he had of the hearts of our nation being knit together in love and unity. I too have a dream that our Church will someday be knit together with love and unity. I know that it seems that that day is getting further away, but I am not giving up hope.
And meanwhile I am not going to limit my knitting to my family only. I want to bring as many threads as I can find into this wonderful warm blanket. There are far too many who are alone and left out, who would bring such beauty to my family blanket.
Carol Lynn Pearson, who is an expert at knitting hearts, wrote a lullaby, which my sisters sang at my little son’s funeral. It is my prayer for all of us:
I’ll leave my love Under your pillow In case you need it,
It will be there Under your pillow All night long.
And with my love Under your pillow In case you need it,
There’s not a thing All through the night That can go wrong.
So sleep happy, Knowing how I love you; Sleep happy tonight;
Sleep smiling, Knowing how I love you;
Sleep happy sleep smiling tonight.
I’ll leave my love Just like a blanket Wrapped around you,
It will be there, Just like a blanket Tucked in tight.
And with my love Just like a blanket, Wrapped around you,
You will stay warm, Inside and out All through the night.
So sleep happy, Knowing how I love you; Sleep happy tonight;
Sleep smiling, Knowing how I love you; Sleep happy, sleep smiling tonight.