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The day I saw a homeless woman wearing one of my family heirlooms

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Is the Bible verse “love never ends” just poetry – or is it actually true? 

There’s a homeless woman in my town named Gloria. She walks the streets wearing garbage bags around her shoes to stay warm. Our area is economically depressed, with the closest homeless shelter over 20 miles away. Gloria’s been taken there many times, but she always finds her way back to these streets full of abandoned storefronts, a place where I imagine it’s especially hard to be homeless. With hardly any social services or even park benches to sit and rest, what’s Gloria to do? Where can she find warmth on a cold, rainy day?

This dilemma was running through my mind recently as I watched Gloria dig through a dumpster. I was parked at a stoplight and she was about a block away. I easily would have missed her, but there was something remarkable about her that day that caught my eye. Through the foggy mist, I could see she was wearing a brightly-colored, orange and blue patchwork quilt tied around her neck – like a cape. This, however, was no ordinary patchwork quilt-cape. It was one that my grandmother lovingly sewed by hand in the 1950s. Made completely of cut-up wool coats from members of her immediate family, this heirloom was given to me by my grandmother before she entered a nursing home.

“Ah, this …” my grandma touched a patterned square, “this was your mother’s coat when she was three. And this,” she said, rubbing a faded blue triangle, “this was Timmy’s snow jumper.”

Timmy is my uncle who passed away suddenly a few years ago. I touched the fabric that once touched him and remembered his laugh, the way he’d light up a room. It’s no wonder this quilt quickly became a cherished relic, one my own immediate family would spread on the grass to pose on for our annual family photo. We took such a photo last fall at a park. The quilt was then laid among bags of hand-me-downs and accidentally donated to a church sale.

I gasped as this patchwork quilt – now Gloria’s cape – lifted in the blustery wind. She fought to grab it, tugging at a square that may have warmed my mom or my Aunt Brenda over 50 years ago.

Gloria saw us staring and smiled her wide, toothless grin as she always does. My toddler waved excitedly, thinking this caped homeless woman a superhero. The wind whistled and I felt thankful for the thick lining my grandmother lovingly sewed into that blanket-cape decades ago. I even teared up when I realized that my now stroke-weakened grandmother is still affecting the lives of others the same way she always has – in beautiful yet practical ways.

Grandma’s quilt is keeping Gloria warm, I thought, pondering the fact that the hands that sewed that patchwork quilt are now arthritic and aged, but how they – without even realizing it – tossed a pebble into a pond, one where ripples go on forever.

Mother Teresa is famous for pointing out that it’s often impossible for most of us to do great things – but, as she famously said, “we can all do many small things with great love.”

This is one of my favorite quotes – so applicable to my vocation of motherhood, an adventure in which I memorize verses like 1 Corinthians 13 with my kids, starting off the day by proclaiming truths like “love is patient, love is kind … love is not jealous or boastful … love never ends!”

My seven boys yell that last part in unison, and it’s super cute. But a few times, I’ve walked away from our prayer time, perplexed by the claims of this Bible verse. My inner-dialogue argues, “look at the sky-rocketing divorce rate; how could ‘love never end?’”

I’m not claiming to have such an answer. But I am claiming the dense warmth of this prized patchwork quilt-cape; one sewn by my grandmother with great love decades ago and wrapped tightly around Gloria’s shoulders right now.

I like to imagine Gloria shedding this quilt in the spring. Maybe it will be plowed under the public garden the city council has planned. Fertilized seeds will sprout in its fibers. Flowers will grow. Children will pick them for their mothers who will then be inspired to do loving things like make casseroles and sew more patchwork quilts. All because love never ends. 

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