I did my first cross stitch project more than two decades ago. I was pregnant at the time and it gave me something to do in those last few weeks when I needed to put my feet up. That first small project featured a bear in a chef’s hat. The bear was holding a mixing bowl that was the same color as my kitchen. It was a simple pattern, cute and informal. I read through the directions and thought, “I can do this.” It was perfect for a fledgling stitcher.
Counted cross stitch begins with a plain piece of material called Aida cloth. This is an even-weave fabric comprised of what are essentially tiny boxes. It is possible to take a needle and embroidery floss and make uniform x’s in the fabric. A completed cross stitch piece is comprised of hundreds, and even thousands, of carefully placed x’s. As you stitch, you follow a pattern that an artist has designed.
I can still remember the fascination I felt as I watched that first image emerging beneath my hands. I hated to put it down because I was so excited to see the completed picture. I discovered that I had to repeatedly refer to the pattern to make sure I was putting the stitches in the exact right place. I learned that small mistakes in counting can affect the design. Mistakes could be pulled out, but that took up a lot of time and kept me from making progress on completing the design.
When I first turned the project over, I was surprised by the disarray I found there. It was downright messy! In addition to knots and dangling bits of floss, the image was out of focus. I came to realize that the little ‘bump’ made from the cross stitch ‘x’ is only on the front of the cloth. It is what gives the picture its’ sharpness. The lack of crispness in the view from the bottom is an inherent part of cross stitching. My little kitchen bear was emerging just the way the artist intended: slightly out of focus on the bottom, coming together beautifully when viewed from the top.
I have often thought that cross stitch is an apt metaphor for our lives. An Artist has a carefully crafted design for each life. The empty Aida cloth is the beginning of God’s plan:
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:16
Our lives were intricately designed before we were even conceived. God uses ALL the circumstances of life to carefully stitch a picture that is beautiful to Him. Joys and sorrows, laughter and heartache, success and failure, pleasure and pain. Friendship, marriage, family, divorce, death, education, work, church, ministry. Each is a stitch in the tapestry of our life. We see only the bottom of the tapestry and think, “What a mess!” With loose ends and knots and an out-of-focus picture we wonder, “What in the world is the Artist doing?”
And of course, it is apparent that the cross stitch metaphor can only be stretched so far. Unlike my cross stitch efforts, the Artist makes no mistakes. There is no pulling out of mistakenly placed stitches. So how do we reconcile our sins and mistakes with the pattern of the Artist? How do they fit in? Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who hid Jews in her home during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, had this to say:
“I once visited a weaver’s school, where the students were making beautiful patterns. I asked, “When you make a mistake, must you cut it out and start from the beginning?” A student said, “No. Our teacher is such a great artist that when we make a mistake, he uses it to improve the beauty of the pattern.”
From our vantage point, the pattern of our life can look pretty unattractive. We tend to see the mistakes and miss the beauty. “How can this sorry situation, further botched by my sinful response, be anything other than ugly?” Keep in mind – you are looking at the bottom of the tapestry. The Artist sees the true picture. It is emerging beneath His skillful hands and it gives Him pleasure. He will carefully stitch the pattern He has designed for your life, incorporating the mistakes to enhance the pattern, until the picture is complete.
With the Psalmist, we can say: I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:14