Several years ago, I followed an embroidery account on Instagram. The wild creativity and intricate detail drew me in, frequently resulting in wide-eyed wonder at the finished projects.
Over and over, I told myself, One day I’m going to try that and This will be the year. Over and over, my fingers scrolled social media, tapping “like” but never picking up a needle.
A few months ago, as the realization settled in that my new normal for the foreseeable future required a screen not only for work but for church and for all communication with family and friends, I knew something would have to give.
My eyes hurt from straining, my arms (much like my apartment) felt empty, and my feet were restless as they carried me from one end of the hallway to the other and back again with nowhere else to go.
I declared this to be “one day” and purchased a beginner’s embroidery kit. When the instructions arrived in another language, I turned to YouTube for tutorials on various stitches. Half an hour later, with a needle in one hand and a wooden hoop in the other, I began.
It was slow-going, confusing, messy, and, if my hand slipped (which it often did), painful. Just as I got the hang of one stitch, I’d find that the next portion required another, and so down went the needle as my YouTube search history grew.
It wasn’t until finishing the pattern that it became clear God was teaching me a lesson with every stitch. When thinking about posting a picture of my very first attempt at embroidery, the strangest thought crossed my mind:
I think I want to display the other side.
From the back — and I promise this is true — it’s nothing short of a mess. You might be wide-eyed with wonder, but it’s from wondering, What exactly am I looking at here?
It doesn’t line up or add up. There are threads in knots and threads unraveling. But when I flip back and forth, looking at one side and then the other, it’s the underbelly and the backside, the tangled mess that brings tears to my eyes.
I know this. I’ve lived it. In some ways, we’re all experiencing it together this year. There’s a great unraveling — a slow-going, confusing, messy, and sometimes painful unmaking.
But something, even here and even now, is being made in us. The other side of the hoop, and the whole of Scripture, tells me this is true.
The Bible opens with a beautiful, creative calling forth. “God said . . . and it was so.” Both the Old Testament and the New Testament agree, we were made in God’s image and declared His handiwork.
If God as an artist made you, then that makes you living, breathing art. Art that smiles and sings, wipes away tears and cooks dinner, tells stories and runs errands. Art that bleeds, art with wrinkles, art with kind eyes and laugh lines.
Art is what you do or make, yes, but it’s also who you are.
“God is not a technician. God is an Artist. This is the God who made you. The same God who lives inside of you. He comes into us, then comes out of us, in a million little ways. That’s why there’s freedom, even in the blah. Hope, even in the dark. Love, even in the fear. Trust, even as we face our critics. And believing in the midst of all that? It feels like strength and depth and wildflower spinning; it feels risky and brave and underdog winning. It feels like redemption. It feels like art.”
― Emily P. Freeman, A Million Little Ways
I think about this as the sun begins to set. I reach for my embroidery hoop and a new pattern, settle into the chair by the window, and pull the thread through as God paints the sky.
Soon, something will exist in what was once empty space. Little by little, stitch by stitch, something from nothing.
I might bleed a little or break a needle. There will be twisted threads and tangled knots. It’ll be messy. But it’ll be beautiful, too, because there’s always more to the story.
Years before embroidery entered my social media feed, I wondered how to best end my first book, the one that asks “Is God good in the messy middle?” The pages within refuse to accept an easy answer or cliche, but I’ll go ahead and spoil the ending: His goodness is woven all the way through. And so I wrote a prayer to close the book, giving it all back to the Answer I was looking for the entire time. It begins like this:
“Lord, help us to recognize that our story finds its meaning only in You. Show us that knowing the ending isn’t necessary for the here-and-now to be beautiful. Remind us that You turn messes into messages and tests into testimonies.”
He’s a kind Artist, a loving Father, a gentle Mother, the greatest of Storytellers. One day, the other side of the hoop will be revealed and we’ll all stand with wide-eyed wonder at the wild creativity and intricate detail of the One who wove us together (Psalm 139:13).
But for today, we simply believe. We wait with hope, we watch for redemption, and we trust that what looks like a mess is something beautiful in the making.
Ann Woleben says
The imagery in your post is so vivid. God is the artist of the tapestry of our lives. He loves us even as He looks at our messiness ~ the messiness that we try to hide from others. With the pandemic period of isolation, I have picked up an embroidery project that I started years ago, and yes, the underside is messy. Your post gave me a new perspective in looking at both sides of the hoop. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and providing an image for reflection.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
What a perfect analogy of the art that is our life’s story. When I think of you sitting and concentrating on your embroidery project, I picture you as being fully present. You can’t cook dinner and stitch; you can’t text and stitch; if you’re me, you can’t watch tv and stitch – all eyes are on the art you are making. Likewise, God’s eyes are always present and focused on His art which is you and He calls us to step away (even in the midst of the messy middle with knots and strings and loose threads) to let ourselves be embraced by Him. It’s the sacred relationship with our Creator/Father that makes our life worth living, both in the joy and in the suffering. He’s with us at every stitch along the way. Loved this post! Do share a pic of your embroidery!!
Judy M Wagner says
Thank you for this message. It’s been a hard 6 months. My father passed away in August after being on Hospice since May. It wasn’t Covid 19 related but the Pandemic made it more complicated. In the early spring I saw a virtual class for knitting an afghan. I have done knitting in the past but it’s been many years. I thought oh, this looks like such a pretty pattern and in this shut down, social isolation of the pandemic, this will be a perfect time to knit a beautiful afghan! Well about the time I got the kit box of yarn and pattern in the mail for the virtual class (which was to start at the beginning of June) my father went onto Hospice. God had other plans for me for this year. I always say life happens when you are making other plans.
It has been a messy year, now trying to go through dad’s house, settle the estate, wanting to move things along faster, reestablish some kind of routine and normal life again. But God keeps telling me to settle down, take one thing at a time and the order and pattern of life will take form. It’s not easy to let go, of my earthly dad, the things in the house the warm memories. But with faith in my heavenly father I know that my life will start over again. My beautiful flower garden suffered this year from lack of attention but the garden of my heart is being tended by the glory of the Lord. I have also done embroidery, crochet, water color painting and know those can be relaxing hobbies that help with stress. Sometimes those projects look quite messy in the process but end up looking beautiful when you see the whole picture. Maybe by Christmas I will be able to take up those knitting needles and start the afghan for the winter and the messy back of this year will take form into a glorious new year. All in God’s time and plans.
Praying for you Judy. I’m so sorry for your loss.
Beth Williams says
Sweet Judy praying for you now. Asking God to send a calming peace to your weary soul. It is so hard to lose a parent-I’ve lost both of mine. This pandemic has made it harder. May God help you take one day at a time & work on some of those projects. Asking God for guidance as you wade through your dad’s stuff, the memories & the house. Praying as time goes on it will get better. Know that one day you will get to see your earthly dad again.
Pat B. says
I am in the same place as you. I am 1200 miles from my home sitting at my mother’s bedside. She has been on a long journey under hospice care and it appears this is the final leg. My dad passed last year. I have neglected many areas of my life in trying to care of their affairs. Thank you for the reminder to settle down and take things one at a time. May you find comfort and peace as you finish your afghan!
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Kaitlyn I don’t know how many times in my life I tried needle work crocheting it all done my head along with niting. I even went on YouTube to follow how to do chrocing. No still could never get the hang of it. My Husband said Dawn put it down put it away before it drives you bunkers. We have a TLC group in our Church. It is called Tender Loving Care. For women. Our Salvation Army Offer thought it would be a good idea one time if we could make squares by chrocing them then make a blanket for older people. With the squares. So my Salvation Army Offer told me when I couldn’t get the hand of it to go home and practice at home. She even tried to show me. I still could not get the hang of it. My Husband said put it out of sight until next week one day I was practicing at home until TLC again. Just tell the Salvation Army Offer. The truth it nearly drove you bonkers trying it. You went on line to YouTube to try it no good. So I did. It not for you. But it taught me in the trying that God loves a trier. God still loves me no matter what. Even if I couldn’t master it. God will never give up on me. God will always love me no matter what. I am still a beautiful piece of art in his eyes no matter what. As he made me and created me in my Mother’s womb. To be the beautiful person I am in his eyes. He has other arts for work me to do that I can do. When I can’t do knitting or any thing else like that. God does not see me as failure. As when at that time I couldn’t do the the squares for TLC in my Church. I did at the time think I had failed. But God said no Dawn you have not. I have other things you can do. God showed me that. So for everyone reading this. Never think when you can’t do something you have failed. You have not. You can ask God he will show you what you are good. You are beautiful piece of art to God that is all that matters. As God made you. Thank you for today’s reading. Love Dawn Ferguson-Little xx
What a wonderful way to look at life, through embroidery! My mom taught me how to embroidery. I do know what my first project looked like. The front was ok, but the back was another story! As I started making things like dish towels for gifts, I did get better. Then I started working on kits and bigger projects. It’s been quite a while since I’ve picked up my last project. My MS has made the embroidery a challenge, when before, I didn’t even have to concentrate on what I was doing. I also used to be fast and have tiny and even stiches. The back of the projects were really neat. Now, it takes a great deal of concentration and still takes me forever to do even a small piece of the project. I was doing an embroidery project for my parents. The MS slowed me down. They passed away within about a year of each other. That project still sits in my sewing basket…only half way done. My stitches are not even. The back is once again a little messy. I know that I should finish this project, but my incentive is gone. Then I read your post. I think that I will dig out this project and finish it. I’m sure it will take me a long while to complete it. I’m sure it will be a mess on the back. But I do think it’s the best thing for me to do. My project? The Lord’s Supper. I will finish this and frame it. I think that is what my parents would want me to do.
Thank you Kaitlyn! May God bless you!
Sandy Ryall says
Lovely imagery that we are God’s art, that He is constantly refining in every situation throughout our lives. You reminded me that I have an embroidery project from many years ago that needs completing. 🙂
I just put it away and did think about it at the beginning of this new lifestyle, but put it off once again. When my sister and I were kids, our mom taught us to embroider and the larger project I started back then never was finished either. I always had trouble doing a french knot for the centre of a flower or other “dot” in the pattern. I hope this new craft continues to bless you as a rest from your work.
The beginning of your prayer, from your book, is beautiful. A great reminder that He turns messy, unwanted, situations into growth for Jesus’ glory.
Thanks for this post, Sandy
The post and all the comments were – great.
All of them so uplifting, Christian women suffering loss, inadequacy in certain matters, but persevering, overcoming through the steadfast belief God is with them always
Amazing! Thank you so much for sharing, Kaitlyn! ❤️
Becky Keife says
Kaitlyn, I just love these lines: “If God as an artist made you, then that makes you living, breathing art. Art that smiles and sings, wipes away tears and cooks dinner, tells stories and runs errands. Art that bleeds, art with wrinkles, art with kind eyes and laugh lines.” Yes! Thank you for this beautiful reminder today. xx
M @ In Beautiful Chaos says
WOW. So beautiful!!!!! I love your analogy. As hard as it is to live in the midst of the mess and the brokenness, God has given me a passion for the beauty that can be found in our stories during those times. My blog, https://inbeautifulchaos.com is all about the beauty that can be found in the midst of the process. I admit I’m not always the quickest to see it when it’s happening in my own life, but I really believe that some of the most beautiful things in life and in our world come from situations, circumstances, and people that are very much “in the messy middle” as you put it! Thank you for this encouragement!!!
M @ In Beautiful Chaos
Beth Williams says
Loved the art analogy. The back side of any embroidery, knitting or sewing project shows the imperfections, knots, messes that make up the beautiful front side. This year has been really hard on many people. Some are called to be home schooling teachers while working from home. Others are on the front lines of the pandemic & still others have lost jobs. All that can seem scary. Most of us want to know how this will all come out. God is calling us to a waiting season. He is asking us to be patient while the artist works on us. We don’t have to know how everything will turn out. Just live our lives in the beautiful here & now with our gracious loving artist God who made us. Let’s turn to the artist & allow Him to take the knots & tangles out of our lives.
Joan Munro says
The embroidery is like a mosaic..looks so different from back to front, from hidden to revealed., by the Artist in Residence God!
Nancy Ruegg says
Many of us can relate to the mess that proceeds the masterpiece! Praise God for the way he can use knots and loose threads, misplaced criss-crosses and more to create eventual perfection. Thank you for the reminder, Kaitlyn, that we are beauty in the making, for God’s good purpose (Philippians 2:20)!
Theresa Boedeker says
This was beautiful and I could picture you hoop in hand, stitching. I have many a framed stitched pictures on my walls and over the years the backs of my pictures have gotten better and better. Especially after a lady who entered her stitching in contests said the judges always look at the back. My last piece I had framed I picked up and when I got it home I finally looked at it and realized something was wrong with the picture. They had framed my picture back side facing up. I took the piece back and told them the problem, and the guy started arguing with me that I was wrong. Finally I told him I had stitched it and I knew what it looked like and which way the subjects were facing, and they were facing the wrong way. So he turned it around and reframed it. Funny thing, though, it was the only picture I have ever stitched that one could remotely have framed the wrong way. And all my stitching has so many faults and flaws, but they also give the picture depth and character. Who wants a perfect picture or Life. I’m thinking, none of us. Because messes do become beautiful pictures.