“Blessed are Those Who Mourn”

“For the Lamb…will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” *

Christmastime = joy, festivities, love, gatherings of great people. It also equals the baby Jesus, his captivated parents, and the unusual, fantastical events of that evening: a very pregnant young woman and her fiancé on the road and far from home, an extraordinary star, angels (!) with a message to shepherds that was actually for the entire world.

One angel, the angel of the Lord, went right up to those shepherds and said, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2). The angel’s glory shone all over those shepherds as he said this. 

Exciting, joyful, miraculous stuff.

But I know there are many for whom an undercurrent of heartache and loss runs through their days this season. People I love very much are right now dealing with cancer, suicide, and death. Ow! It wrenches my gut to see the depth of their hurt.

So maybe this is an appropriate time to introduce this particular blanket—because such a difficult mix of joy and grief is not only true for lots of people this time of year, but was also foretold for Jesus and his young mom, Mary. It happened like this:

Just weeks after his birth, when Mary and Joseph carried their tiny son to the temple, a faithful man named Simeon met Jesus and, after praising God, looked directly at Mary and told her, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2).

“A sword will pierce your own soul too”? How difficult this must have been for Mary to hear as she held her tiny, defenseless son. How could she take this in? We know a little: she stored up things in her heart. And she must have lived daily with a tension of joy and sorrow hidden inside.

That tension is what I see in this blanket. The sorrow. The joy. And the comfort.

This is “Blessed are Those Who Mourn,” part of my Beatitude Series.

It didn’t start out that way! This is the blanket I made on video for the master class I’m teaching, and I never intended for it to be about mourning! But at the design stage, as so often happens, the colors, the patterns and the wool itself spoke to me a ton in this particular layout and not in others—and I had to listen.

In this blanket, I see the weight and depth of grief in the dark colors around the edges—but then I feel the palpable relief of those creamy whites, a cocoon of healing and comfort in the center, and joy in those tumultuous, popping pink flowers, all spreading outward.

In its entirety, this beatitude says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Jesus himself said this, when he was just starting out on his itinerant ministry at age 30. Over the next 3 years (just 3!) Jesus would mourn the ugliness of hypocrisy and sin, the betrayal of friends and followers, and his own impending execution.

But in the end? Jesus beats death itself and becomes the One to wipe away the tears of those who turn to him. Wow! We’re so used to hearing this, but just…Wow!

In fact, Jesus becomes ALL the things. He is he sacrificial Lamb, the Shepherd, the Comforter, the King. The Alpha and Omega. All these names are his names.

So. Blessed are you if you mourn and seek comfort. Jesus doesn’t say the pain will leave. But he does say he will wipe away your tears. And he will comfort you. In my experience, as I have trusted this shepherd king, he does exactly that.

Welcome, Lord Jesus, this Christmas. Please don’t let us overlook who you actually are.

*Revelation 7:17

© Joan Olson
“Blessed are Those Who Mourn”
(55×68) Felted Wool Sweaters

On Brokenness and Mercy

Art in the Barn 2017 is soon here! I’ll be there, centrally located at space 45, and honored to be among such a fine group of artists and artisans. Mark your calendar if you’re local—it’s Just one more month until this enjoyable show opens! It’s a great size (175 artists, so not overwhelming) and the quality of art is wonderful. It’s a perfect time of year to appreciate a Midwest fall, and not too early to think about holiday gifts. If you’ve never experienced a Green Sheep blanket in person, come wrap up in one!

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[Please visit my Etsy shop, The Green Sheep Studio, for purchasing information.]

With Art in the Barn coming up quickly, I’ve continued work on The Beatitudes blanket series enthusiastically. There are now four completed blankets, with ideas for the rest.  “Blessed are the Meek” and “Thirsting for Righteousness” were posted earlier. Today I have two more.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

This is “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.” The original verse says this:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
— Matthew 5:3

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

When I went about collecting colors and ideas for the vibe of this blanket, I dwelt on what it is like to feel scarcity or poverty in my spirit.

The spiritual side of me is where I want my living to be rich and full, where I want to make a priority of significant things in life and be faithful to those.

But it’s also the place where I am very aware of my shortcomings and inadequacies—aware of the poverty of my spirit. With these thoughts, I quickly chose the gray, charcoal, and neutrals.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

Of course this verse doesn’t end with the sorry state of an empty, broken, and poor spirit. That’s how it made the beatitude list, after all, because there’s a Part Two!

And Part Two says, “…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

My understanding of the kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God, used interchangeably in some places in the Bible), is that it is both something for the future and something for now.

If I take my poor spirit and turn to the God who made me, concede my inadequacy and accept his sufficiency, then right there, in that place, I’m pretty sure sits the kingdom of heaven.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

Is this exactly what Jesus meant when he spoke these words? Of course I can’t know. But this is what those words stirred up in me, thus this is where the blanket began.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

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[Please visit my Etsy shop, The Green Sheep Studio, for purchasing information.]

This next blanket, offering quite a contrast in color, is “Blessed are the Merciful.”

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Merciful” (61×75) Felted wool sweaters

The original verse says,

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
— Matthew 5:7

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Merciful” (61×75) Felted wool sweaters

I can’t explain this one so well; it’s abstract even to me. So this will be brief:

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Merciful” (61×75) Felted wool sweaters

Mercy.

It is hoped for but seems unlikely.
It comes when it is not deserved.
It comes in waves, on a swell of relentless love.
It comes in layers, emotional, immense, overwhelming.
Its arrival throws one off-balance.
It comes with surprises and it surprises when it is given.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Merciful” (61×75) Felted wool sweaters

Where in the world would we be without it?

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Merciful” (61×75) Felted wool sweaters

[Please visit my Etsy shop, The Green Sheep Studio, for purchasing information.]

“Satin and Lace”

“How do you back your blankets?”

This is a question I am frequently asked! Actually, I leave my narrow seams raw. It means the back of a blanket is a lot like the inside of the shirt or jeans you have on. (Spoiler alert: This is not true for the blanket in the current post!)

(You can see my blanket backs in this previous post and this one and this one, for example. Scroll down in each post to look for a pic where the back is flipped up and exposed.)

Why do I do this? Two reasons.

Reason #1 I love the drape of these stitched-together swaths of wool. They’re malleable. They move with cohesion and lightness. They can do this because there is no back to impede this.

Reason #2 To apply a backing to the various shifting, stretchable knits (from a mixture of sweaters) that comprise one blanket requires a LOT of careful and precise stabilizing. Yards of hand-basting and dozens of safety pins come into play. Except it’s more workout and less play! It takes a strong back to hold, pin, and baste while leaning over the work surface for an extended period. The time needed to do this well translates into a higher cost per blanket.

In sum, if an appropriate backing does not spoil the drape and the hand of the finished wool piece, it can be a lovely thing. Yet its cost in time, money, and back wear is high. STILL! Despite my carefully studied conclusions above, I have a backed blanket to show you.

It happened like this:

My client wanted a wedding gift of a lap blanket for her niece and husband. Serendipitously, for a project I was experimenting with, I had recently assembled several sweaters into a piece in the very colors she desired. I showed her. Perfect! But the fabric was too lightweight to hold its own as a lap blanket.

This client has worked with me before—she’s my lap-size blanket aficionado—and knows I’m a no-backing kind of gal. But she asked if I’d consider putting one on this time. I contemplated. If ever there was a time to try my hand at this, it would be with this manageably-sized blanket. I said yes.

I chose a very soft cotton flannel for the back, keeping the blanket cozy and pliable, and bound the edge with cashmere. While I considered doing some fancy quilt-type top stitching, I don’t have enough experience to know how to effectively conquer the shift and bunch-up challenges caused by the knit. I instead stitched along the stripe lines of the blanket.

Mid-project, my client brought to me some pieces of satin and lace she had found from her mother’s wedding dress. Could I use them? If so, the niece would have “something old” from her grandmother’s wedding dress permanently part of this wedding gift blanket.

There was enough lace to span two long edges, and enough satin to sew up three bridal flowers. I love the touch of antique white and the family presence and significance that comes with it.

Congratulations, Erica and Brian!
Like lace, may your marriage be unique and ever-intriguing;
like satin, may it ever be deep and rich.

©Joan Olson “Satin and Lace” (37×57)
Medium: Felted wool sweaters
SOLD

“Thirsting for Righteousness”

Thirsting for Righteousness

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
—Matthew 5:6

As far back as I can remember, I have done my thinking first in weight and image, in spatial impression and juxtaposition, in line and shade, and finally—at the very very last—in words. I can’t help it; it’s how my brain fires. (You can imagine what this does to having a conversation.)

I tell you this because this is how the images for each blanket in this series on the Beatitudes have come to me. I’m not researching the theme first, seeing what Bible scholars say about what Jesus meant, although I think that’s important. Instead, I imagine what might have come to me if I had been sitting on that hillside, listening to those words being spoken twenty centuries ago.

Last month I posted “Blessed are the Meek.” Now here is “Thirsting for Righteousness.”

The word righteousness in present-day usage can carry some negative stuff: a whiff of moral piety, a haughtiness, an outward appearance of being upright. But when I hear Jesus’ statement afresh, I imagine something different: a longing for right-ness, justice, fairness, deep caring, and the making of choices for the good of many, rather than the good of one. I think of humility, not pride.

Of course I don’t imagine those things in WORDS though! It was hard work to transform that last paragraph into verbal units for you!

Now I’ll forge ahead toward more words to attempt to convey how this blanket came to be.

The muted colors of the background are like daily life—lovely and comfortable, but not brilliant. In my mind, this background encompasses personal life, community life, life in our world. There are a few spots that stand out as highlights, but they’re still relatively subdued.

But then: those day lilies! When I look at them I want to cry. It’s that longing rising up—for justice, for caring, for goodness. The plant is not big, nor is it loud, but it stands in sharp contrast to what’s around it. It isn’t there simply due a will to do good or spread beauty; it’s there because of where its roots are.

The lily plant is rooted in a strip of blue, a nod to the prophet Jeremiah’s insight: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

I’m fairly certain the day lilies appeared in my head because of something Jesus said just upon the heels of his beatitudes. He addressed the topic of anxiety. (Apparently it’s not just a modern malady.) He pointed to the lilies in the fields near where his listeners sat, and noted that if God dressed the short-lived lilies so beautifully, he would care MUCH more fully for those who trust him (Matthew 6: 25-34).

So. Righteousness? True righteousness? I’m not capable on my own. But with my roots in the right place, amazing things can become possible.


“Thirsting for Righteousness”  (62″ x 76″)

“A Sunbeam to Warm You”

May God grant you always:
A sunbeam to warm you,
A moonbeam to charm you,
A sheltering angel so nothing can harm you.
Laughter to cheer you,
Faithful friends near you,
And whenever you pray, Heaven to hear you.
—An Irish Blessing

So, Monday was the first day of spring :) And here I am posting snowy photos when snow is the last thing we want to see!

But I’ve got a blanket to show you, and I photographed it back when snow was on the ground. You can help me out by thinking of warm and cozy things.

This blanket was a custom order, a wedding gift to a young couple. In fact, this is the third wedding gift blanket within this family. What a privilege for me to part of these! (The earlier ones are “Easy Together” and “His and Hers.”)

The mother of the groom gave the sparest of a color lead: neutral grays and tans. I suggested throwing in yellow-gold for a warm accent and got the go-ahead.

Tucked away in my mind, I had a painting I’d seen in those same colors. The painting is in a favorite inspiration book, “An Eye for Color,” by Olga Gutiérrez de la Roza. (I’ve written about this wonderful book before, here, here and here.) The painting I had seen is part of a larger collage by Karen Stewart of  STEWART + BROWN. Here was my guiding image (see below), with sun, hills, water, and the sun’s reflection. It enchanted me.

There’s something about marriage in this scene. It has a sense of calm reassurance and stability, things a good marriage provides. But the sun’s reflection on the rippling water hints at the less-than-stable: the unknown ahead, new ventures, transformation. Just like life together.

I took the painting and abstracted it, maintaining the placement of sun, hills/woods, water, and reflection. I omitted the green to keep the entire blanket within a neutral range.

Although it’s hard to tell against the blue-white snow, in person the colors of this blanket remind me of late summer sun on a field of straw. Warm!

To Mike and Laura: I wish for you the words of that Irish blessing. May this blanket be with you through friendship and laughter, sheltering and prayers. May it bring you warmth, togetherness, a place to talk things over or maybe to take a nap…while you rest up for new adventures. Happy marriage! 

“A Sunbeam to Warm You” (65″ x 76″)
This blanket has already gone to a good home

 

“Garden of the Gods”

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Two Christmases ago I gave my husband a card with a repeating pattern of camping tents on the front. Inside, I confidently announced my Christmas gift to him: a road trip to the national parks of southern Utah. It was on our bucket list! It would be our first road trip since our kids have grown up, leaving us on our own! We could start a new tradition!

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What I neglected to note as I wrote that card, however, was the actual fitness of my trip-planning skills to the requirements of the task. Was I confusing myself with someone else? Oh, THAT’S RIGHT. While this skill-set does exist in my household, it does not belong to me. It is my husband’s.

Hubby’s M.O: Go online and plan the trip.

My M.O.: Read a little, brainstorm (with hubby), go look up more stuff, bounce ideas (off hubby), write things down, float possibilities, write things down in multiple places, lose track, get overwhelmed, make impulsive decisions. Give hubby the impression that the plan is shaky. Does this sound even remotely Christmas present-ish??

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My guy was tremendously patient with me and allowed my slow, uncertain method to still be a kindness to him. I fumbled around just about as described in my M.O. above, with him providing only enough structure for my halting efforts to actually bear fruit. (I’ve mentioned before what a gift my husband is to ME.)

And in this manner it finally came to pass that we indeed took our two-week road trip to “The Mighty Five” national parks of Utah in September of last year. Two heads are better than one, and all that.

But about those parks! Have you been there? Do you live near there? IT’S MAGNIFICENT. The landscape makes you feel tiny but at the same time fills you up and enlarges you (somehow!) with its glorious spaciousness.

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In September I blogged an overview of the trip, including a handful of our photos. Then this last weekend we had some friends over for dinner and to see our pics from the trip (they’ve been asking!). And I realized I needed to share this blanket—a wedding gift and offshoot of our Utah road trip.

En route from northern Illinois to southern Utah, we stayed a night in Colorado (worth its own road trip, of course, but that will need to wait). We arrived at the end of a long day of driving, and our friends in Colorado Springs popped us into their car at dusk and drove us about a mile from their home to a favorite spot of theirs, the Garden of the Gods. It was our breathtaking introduction to the rich reds and vibrant greens we were about to see throughout the next 10 days. So as a very belated wedding gift to them and as a way for me to express our joy with the place and with them, I made a small throw/large lap blanket.

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My aim was to represent the land, the space, the juxtaposition of the brilliant colors that we stood over and under and among at all times. I experimented with some free-style stitching to capture the line and texture of the monolithic stones. And if you look just left and below the cloud, you can see my nod to Pike’s Peak, whose eminence is constantly felt in Colorado Springs.

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GO, friends. Look up The Mighty Five. Look up the US National Park Service. Look up AAA and get some old-school road maps that will rewire your brains. And if you need some trip-planning advice, you know who to call. I will hand my hubby the phone ;).

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“Garden of the Gods” (45″ x 55″)
This blanket has already gone to a good home.