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.
If you’re currently walking through a middle place, desperate to see God’s goodness in the chapters you wouldn’t have necessarily chosen, Even If Not: Living, Loving, and Learning in the in Between is for you. You have not been forgotten or overlooked. There is beauty, even here, and you are not alone.
I needed to be reminded of this today. Thank you <3
Love this! When you showed the back version of your finished project I thought, “That looks kind of cool!” I enjoyed seeing the inter workings of how the thread made it from one point to the next. But I am also the kind of girl that enjoys knowing the “hows” and “whys” behind things. :). Great post!
I love the imagery you have created using embroidery. The connection between handwork and our creative God and how He making something good even in the mess. What beautiful and encouraging words. I really enjoy your writing. Thanks for sharing the backside of your embroidery.
Julie Joiner recently posted…Planning For Sustainable Dreams
Julie, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I appreciate that!
One of the most beautiful reflections I’ve read lately. Thank you for sharing your creative journey.
This is very kind of you to say. Thank you!
I love the weekly things you share. Your words strung together like music always bless me. I rarely Right anymore, but many years ago I wrote about life as a tapestry. Who would think the tangled mess under the surface could produce such beauty on the top?
Jane, thank you so much! I’ve been encouraged by the response to the weekly emails.
Kaitlyn, today’s post made this 74-year old smile from ear to ear. Sitting in Oregon where not only has 2020 brought the pandemic, 100+ nights of protests and rioting, but also wildfires creeping up within miles of our home. Now we are dealing with the smoke and unhealthy air quality. Talk about a messy middle! But I digress — I remember learning embroidery stitches and looking at the back and hoping no one else every did. Then I picked up counted cross-stitch and knitting. Each one with its challenges. Thank you for laying it out in terms of where God is in it all and in me! You made my day. :)
Sherry, I’m so glad to hear this was an encouragement. I’ve been following what’s happening in Oregon and have a few friends that likely aren’t too far from you. It is just heartbreaking. I’m praying for rain!
Sherrey, I will specifically pray for you and your community tonight.
Please know that down here in the South we feel you and what you are going through. We pray for you and all the responders. Heros ans Sheros coming to the rescue of the people they serve. Although fires and smoke are not our problem we have been having Hurricanes and Tropical Storms here. Wishing we could send our rain to you all. Know we in other parts of the country see you and Pray for you.