Recently, I rediscovered counted cross-stitching. My family stared in amazement as I began to bring a picture to life on a plain burlap canvas. It's not their fault they couldn't believe it — I haven't done counted cross-stitching for 20 years, and everything I did in the past, I gave away as presents. It's amazing how 20 years can go by like that.
Anyway, my artistic 9-year-old was most interested. Shyly, he sidled up to my bed as I drew my pattern and asked if I were going to sew right on the paper. I explained that it was just a pattern to follow when I actually sewed onto material.
He didn't get it.
When I did start stitching the words, he was back, interested in every step and encouraging me every 15 minutes. "That's really starting to come together," he said probably 30 times during the course of the work.
Because of his curiosity, I showed him how I made the X's, how I always did the upper left to lower right stitch first, then the upper right to lower left stitch over it, to make it look uniform. He could see on his own that using slightly different shades deepened the realism of the flowers and how outlining them made them pop.
He stayed interested during the four weeks it took to complete the picture, asking what color I was doing next, and what color I was going to outline the yellow with. I modified what I'd heard is a carpenter's motto: measure twice, cut once to count twice, stitch once.
Despite this, he got to watch me unpick my work several times.
"See?" I'd show him. "I was supposed to start this row here. But I got mixed up."
"That's a lot of counting," he commiserated.
As I worked over the hundreds of individual stitches, trying to do each one correctly, I found myself talking to my son about how each stitch is like each action in life. One stitch doesn't seem like much in the big picture, but for the end result to come out right, each needs to be done correctly. If I start doing some of it wrong, I could mess up a whole part of the picture.
I thought about how all the tiny actions of each day — washing the same kitchen counter over and over, folding the same clothes into the same drawers, reaching out a hand to take the sacrament each week, flossing your teeth — all contribute to a life well lived. When small things are taken care of, bigger things fall into place.
I talked to him about that being like repentance: you have to undo what you did wrong and try to do it right from then on. If you don't correct as you go along, bigger parts of your life could turn out wrong, or off, or not the same as they would have.
Then I thought about the pattern being like the scriptures and other gospel teachings. You are supposed to look at it in order to know what to do. If you don't look at it carefully and correctly, you find you're off on the wrong thing or in the wrong way. You could miss the boat, so to speak.
Often, when I am carefully following the pattern, the stitches I am making don't look right to me. Surely doing that curve way up there will make the "e" look funny, and I think I should be making stitches a row lower, or in some way different than the pattern. I just can't see how following the pattern is going to make things turn out right.
But when I'm done, it does look right, and I marvel at how fallible my own unaided eyes are, how silly my finished picture would look if I just used my own judgment and didn't trust the pattern.
That's how I know that doing things the scriptures teach us that seem counter-intuitive — like turning the other cheek, forgiving an enemy, keeping a commandment in a sticky situation — actually result in a better life picture than anything we could have done, simply looking at a blank canvas, on our own, and doing what seems best at the time.
Janean Justham lives in Salt Lake City.