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Isn’t counted cross-stitch just glorified paint-by-number?

That’s what I thought (but would never say) when my mom would spend countless hours following pre-made patterns, counting stitches and turning out piece after piece over the years. Each finished product was beautiful in its own way, but the matted and framed wall-hangings didn’t really match my aesthetic. For example, I’ve never found a place to hang this doll that she gave me when I was 13.

And the act of cross-stitching isn’t creative in any way. It’s just a lot of pattern-following and counting. And perseverance. There are better ways to spend your time (I thought, but never said).

Then the pandemic hit and my youngest daughter was bored. We dug around in our craft bin and found a little cross-stitch kit of a butterfly. I had crossed-stitched quite a bit when I was her age (Precious Moments scenes, mostly), and so I knew enough to be able to help her when she ran stuck. I would take the needle to get her back on track.

And then I wouldn’t want to give the needle back.

“Mom,” I said. “I get it. I get why you love to cross-stitch so much. I need to get myself a pattern. Immediately.” She was beside herself with joy.

I went on-line and found the biggest design I could find. Shipping took way longer than expected, but “The Library” finally arrived the day before we were to leave on a trip to visit my parents.

“The Library” (actually, it’s a bookstore – it says so right on the sign in the window above the door)

I started stitching on the long drive. By the time we arrived in Minnesota, I’d already made a mess of it and needed Mom’s help to take out a colour I’d gotten wrong. She was almost as excited to get to fixing as she was to see us.

Mom – happily fixing the mistake I made right out of the gate.

During that last year of her life, Mom and I spoke every morning on FaceTime. I’d have my stitchery and she’d have hers and we’d talk and stitch and pray together. She always wanted to see the progress I’d made and would often sigh, knowing that she would die before I finished it. “I won’t be able to see it when it’s all done,” she’d say. “Or maybe you will, Mom,” I’d say. “Maybe you’ll still be able to see beyond the veil.”

I started this project on June 22, 2020. I thought it might take me decades. It did not.

This has been my Pandemic Project – my Labour of Love – my Grief Work – my Rest. My spiritual director reminded me of the words of Abraham Heschel: “If you work with your hands, Sabbath with your mind. If you work with your mind, Sabbath with your hands.”

I Sabbathed with my hands.

Was I being creative? No. Were there better ways I could have spent my time? Certainly. But I am so grateful for this work. This rest. This play. This Sabbath.

In the midst of a time of ever-changing rules and waves over which I had no control, my stitchery was something I could control, complete with a clear pattern and all the tools I needed.

One of 28 pattern pages

In the midst of the vocation of pastoring, within which it can be very difficult to measure results or impact, this project allowed me to see clear progress.

My progress at about 3/14 of the way through – not long before Mom died in November of 2020.

In the midst of the polarization in my denomination and the black-and-white thinking in my countries of origin and residence… and through the long and bleak winters, my lap was always alive with colour.

And in the midst of my grief, I felt connected to my mom with each stitch.

June 27, 2020 – the very beginning – talking and stitching

Each time I shared my progress on Facebook, I tagged my mom. Especially after she died, her friends (and mine) gathered like hens around my posts, clucking with maternal delight. Their comments soothed my sorrows that Mom could no longer see how far I’d come. Or maybe she could. Maybe she can.

Twenty-one months and 152,100 stitches later, it is finished.

On the back of each of her framed masterpieces, Mom wrote, Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God Alone.

Once I frame my masterpiece, I will write the same.

May the beauty of the Lord our God rest on us.

Establish the work of our hands for us.

Yes, establish the work (and rest and play) of our hands.

Psalm 90:17

Heidi S. De Jonge

Heidi S. De Jonge is the pastor of Westside Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Kingston, Ontario. She and her husband, Tim, a CRC chaplain, parent three grade school daughters. Heidi enjoys cake decorating, cycling, and digital scrapbooking.

17 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Just too cool. “May the beauty of the Lord our God rest upon us. ” Indeed. I guess it’s why God can take a Sabbath rest as well, because our hands are working.

  • Coming from a family of clergy, I can attest that working with one’s hands, doing something where the progress is rewarding, is indeed life-giving, restorative as Sabbath. I have discovered mixed media art to be a delight that virtually requires imperfection, so it is not demanding. It is healing. And constructing the Lego grand piano our son gave me at Christmas (3,000+ pieces!) Is equally fun. Stitch on! Thanks for this.

  • As one who has done a lot of embroidery and cross-stitching in my day, I can only say that this piece of writing touches me deeply. The spiritual act of handwork brings healing when the valley of grief is dark and long. Thank you, Pastor, DeJonge, thank you!

  • Gretchen Munroe says:

    Thank you, Heidi. I see in my mind your mom just as easily handle Children and Worship materials and commit her acts to God. A gift and example for us.

  • Dirk Jan Kramer says:

    I totally get it. My first wife, before she died of cancer, was working on a cross stitch of a teddy bear. She half finished it and stuck the threaded needle for the last time through the fabric. I had it framed that way and my daughter hung it on the wall in our grandsons’ bedroom.

  • Jim Payton says:

    And with this artfully stitched article you have blessed us all with your invitation to beauty, patience, memories, joy, and rest. Profoundly moving, and deeply touching. Thank you.

  • Kathryn VanRees says:

    This is beautiful in every way, Heidi. Knitting is the same for me. Everytime I read Psalm 90 (usually at a funeral) I thought of the GREAT joy I found in my handwork.

  • Nancy L Gessner says:

    I have been a stitcher for many years. (Counted cross stitch, needlepoint, hardanger, crochet etc.) And yes, it has always been a way to find joy, progress, Sabbath and healing in my life (even when I have to ‘frog’ aka rip out some part of it). And I admire you for doing this lovely ‘total coverage’ project! Thank you, Pastor DeJonge for your insight and beautiful work.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Thank you Heidi, I needed this. I offer only one humble critique, if you will receive it.
    “Were there better ways I could have spent my time? Certainly.”
    I think you could accept that in your season of grief and need, Sabbath in this way was the best way you could spend your time.
    Just a thought, meant to be an affirmation of your cross-stitching.

  • Grace Veldheer says:

    I am in awe of this masterpiece!
    What a teacher you are in creating this beautiful piece of art.
    Well done faithful servant!

  • Jack Ridl says:

    Thank you, Heidi, so very much!

    My spouse Julie begins with a raw fleece, washes, dries, combs, cards it, then at her spinning wheel transforms the wool into yarn which she then knits into socks, caps, socks, mittens, pastors’ stoles, shawls. While at the wheel, her spinning creates a Sabbath of quiet, of peace.

  • Brian Kuyper says:

    Beautiful. Simply beautiful. The article and of course the stitching!

  • Beth Postema says:

    Is the pattern European in origin? The French word for bookstore is librairie; just made me wonder.

  • James. Schippers says:

    Hello Heidi, I am a little late in reading your devotional entry. We were out of town for the past week.
    Great reading and thoughts & spiritual application. The finished cross stitched pieces are awesome. Your thoughts and memories also touch me as I knew your mom so well, as your uncle Wally was my roommate at Dordt and great friend. So I knew your mom & her brothers too. All great memories that flow through my mind as I read your descriptive writing. Last memory>>. when your dad sang a solo at your Grandpa Maas’ funeral in Niekerk church, Holland, it blew touched everyone so emotionally. Every time I hear that song I picture Rev Jim in the front of the sanctuary singing. Sorry for rambling. Seeing your name, reading your thoughts were the highlight of today. Your cross stitch is great, Just think and picture the works of art that our God does every day. !
    Best to you

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