I was inspired again by the quilt making of my daughter and another friend to post this story which is included in my book, Building Peace from the Inside Out.
“One generation shall laud thy works to the next.” Psalms 145:4
“The lame I will make the remnant, and those who were cast off a strong nation.” Micah 4:7
I was teaching a Jr. High Sunday School class one Sunday morning during Lent a few years ago. In one of those rare moments of quiet in such a class, I heard a familiar voice from across the hall say, “we still need a volunteer for the crucifixion.” I was worried because I knew the voice belonged to a Sunday School teacher who could be a bit off the wall sometimes. I wondered what in the world Vince was up to. I couldn’t leave my class unattended, but I worried the whole hour about what was going on in that class. When that Sunday school hour was over, I hurried across the hall to the 4th and 5th grade class, praying that I would not have to explain to some irate parents why their child was hanging on the old rugged cross. Much to my relief, I discovered that the class project for that day was to make a mural of the events of the last week of Jesus’ life. The teacher had not been asking for a volunteer to be crucified, but for someone to paint the crucifixion.
The tendency for peacemakers to end up getting crucified got me to wondering how it is we always seem to find people willing to continue the faith, even at great risks to themselves. My mother used to say that “Christianity is only one generation from extinction.” While I don’t believe that, because I know God will find a way with or without our help to keep God’s reign moving forward, it does give me pause. How do we pass on the word of God from one generation to the next against all kinds of odds that the forces of evil can muster?
The Hebrew Bible has 82 references to the word ‘remnant.” A remnant is a leftover, a scrap, an unlikely item to be of any useful purpose, and yet, time after time, in spite of unbelievable unfaithfulness, God finds a faithful remnant to carry on God’s work – thru flood, pestilence, famine, greed, stupidity, violence, exodus, exile, and dispersion.
That concept of the remnant reminds me of an old family quilt my grandmother seemed to be working on throughout my entire childhood. I don’t remember much about the quilt when I was really young, except Grandma always seemed to have it on her lap working on it while she and the other adults sat around in the living room and “visited.” It always sounded a lot like gossiping to me, but they called it visiting.
When I was 6 or 7, I was at Grandma’s, outside playing with my cousin, Dave, who was a couple years older than I, and the grownups were talking in the living room while Grandma was quilting away. Dave found a garter snake under the woodpile and was chasing me around the barn yard with it. I know they say snakes are more afraid of us than we are of them, but I find that very hard to believe.
Well, after making several laps around the house, my little legs were giving out, and I made a tactical decision to cut through the house to try and get away from Dave, and that darn snake. It wasn’t a bad plan, but as I ran through the living room I accidentally stepped on the corner of the quilt and got some of the mud (or something worse from the barnyard) on the quilt. That was when I learned how important that darn quilt was to my grandma, and to my mother.
A couple of years later, when I was staying overnight at Grandma’s, she was working on the quilt late at night. I knew it was almost my bedtime, and I thought, “hmmm, maybe if I can get Grandma talking about the quilt she’ll let me stay up longer.” So I said to her, “Grandma, why are you sewing all those little scraps of material together? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to go out and buy a piece of new material?”
She got a knowing smile on her face, like she had been asked that question before—or maybe even asked it herself. “Yes, it would be a lot easier, Steve, but then I wouldn’t be able to sew all the memories into the quilt.”
Well, of course, I saw my opening, and immediately asked her about the memories. She put me up on her lap and began to tell me the stories represented in the quilt.
She showed me first a square of tattered muslin. It was from the original family quilt that came over the Alleghenies in a covered wagon when our ancestors first came to Ohio to homestead.
I noticed a piece of material next to the muslin that I recognized. It was from the apron Grandma always wore when she had the whole clan over for Thanksgiving dinner. Just seeing that material made me smell the turkey and dressing cooking. I could almost taste the pumpkin pie and see the homemade noodles spread out to dry on Grandma’s bed.
Next to the muslin there was a yellowed piece of once-white satin, and Grandma ran her hand gently over it. It was a piece of her wedding dress.
And close to the satin was a square of taffeta. She told me it was from the material she made the baptismal gown from that all seven of her children wore when they were baptized.
Down in that part of the quilt there was a faded beige square of cotton. It looked pretty old and was warn almost thread-bare when I touched it. “Oh my, those were exciting days,” she said. She explained to me that when she was young women weren’t allowed to vote, and that wasn”t right. So she and lots of other women marched and carried signs till the men in Washington changed the rules. Even as a young mother with several kids, Grandma found time to be involved in community affairs because it was important. I realized later that my grandma was a feminist before we even had that word. Oh, she let Grandpa think he was in charge, but we all knew she was the glue that held the whole extended family together.
I asked her about a bright blue piece of wool. She got kind of a tired look in her eyes. She told me that my uncle Frank had rheumatic fever when he was a little boy, and he was very, very sick. She sat up with him all night, praying and putting wet compresses on his forehead – hoping he’d be OK. When he got well, the doctor told her that everything should be burned – pajamas, bed clothes, toys, anything he had with him in the bed. She said she burned almost all of it, but she cut out a corner of the blue blanket that was on his bed. She washed it really well several times, and kept it for the family quilt.
Catty-cornered from the blue wool was what looked like a plain white sheet, only it had a hole in it, like maybe for an eye in a ghost costume for Halloween. But when I asked her if that was what it was, she shook her head sadly. She told me when uncle Frank was older she found out he was about to be initiated into the local KKK. Well grandma put a stop to that right now. She told him that in our family we treat all of God’s children like our sisters and brothers, no matter what color their skin or how much money they have.
I spied a khaki colored piece next and asked her if it was from my Boy Scout uniform. A big tear ran down her cheek and she got very far away and quiet. I’d never seen Grandma like that before. She told me, “No, I wish it was. That’s a piece of the uniform your Uncle John was wearing when he was killed in the Battle of the Bulge.”
She was quiet again, and I tried to think of someway to cheer her up. There was a red and white polka-dotted square over on the far side of the quilt; so I asked her about it, hoping it would have a happier story. And it did. I learned for the first time that Grandma used to dress up like a clown for all her kids’ birthday parties, and that polka dot material was from her baggy clown pants.
Close by was a multicolored tie-died piece. Grandma said it was from a shirt my cousin Bob wore to some place called Woodstock. He was our family’s hippie, and when he went to Canada to stay out of Viet Nam, everyone was real upset with him, but not grandma. She missed him like crazy, but she supported his decision to be a conscientious objector and reminded anyone who would listen that Jesus was a pacifist too.
Well, it was really getting late by now. I was even beginning to feel sleepy, and I saw Grandma glance at the clock. But before she could tell me it was way past my bedtime, I asked her one more question. There was a big green and white star right in the middle of the quilt; so I asked her why it was there. She said, “Oh, that star is from the hospital gown your Aunt Ruth wore when she was in the hospital with polio. I prayed so hard that God would let us keep Ruthie. Don’t tell anyone, but she’s always been my favorite. (We all knew that anyway.)
“That polio is the reason she still walks with that terrible limp – but I’d sure rather have her with a limp than not at all. So when God let us keep her, I decided to put that star right in the middle of the quilt to say thank you.”
When Grannie was getting ready to tuck me in for the night I asked her if I could sleep under the quilt. She started to say, “no, it was only for very special occasions….” But then she changed her mind and said she guessed it would be OK. But she’d have to take the pins out first. Which was fine with me. It gave me more time to stay up, and I’ve never had a great desire to be a pin cushion anyway.
Then as she put me to bed, Grandma told me one more story about the quilt. She said during the big blizzard of 1950 she and the kids were home and Grandpa was stranded at the gravel pit where he worked for three days. They ran low on coal and fire wood to keep the stove going, and one of the things they did to keep warm was to huddle up and wrap that old family quilt around them.
I asked her, “Grandma, you’ve been through a lot of hard times. How do you keep going?”
“Oh,” she said, “I don’t know. I just ask God to give me strength to do whatever’s necessary; and so far he’s never let me down.”
I had trouble going to sleep that night. I kept thinking about my uncle John and the war. I don’t know if I was more afraid of having to go to war and getting killed – or of having to kill someone else. But the thought of war really bothered me — still does.
But then, I wondered if it would help if I thought about some of the happy memories in the quilt. And sure enough, the next thing I knew I smelled bacon and eggs on the stove for breakfast.
While we ate our eggs, I asked Grandma, “How long do you think it will take you to finish the quilt?”
“Oh,” she said, “the quilt isn’t something you really ever finish. You just keep patching it up and adding to it, and then you pass it on to someone else.”
“And one generation shall laud thy works to another.” (Ps. 145:4) From remnants of insignificant and unknown saints, God weaves together a tapestry of truth that is from everlasting to everlasting. In the face of all odds, faithful peace seekers and peacemakers continue to pass on the good news.