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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.