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The Quilter's Mantra

A journalist finds the answer to happiness in faith.

By Jeff Chu

WEB EXCLUSIVE

My cup runneth over. —PSALM 23:5

A few years ago the quilters of Gee's Bend, Alabama, hit the headlines.

For generations, the women of the community had been making quilts from the scraps of their husbands' work clothes: corduroy, denim, twill. Their children grew up sleeping under piles of patchwork every winter, since most of the houses in the town—populated almost entirely by still-poor descendants of slaves—had no heat. Then an art dealer came to town and told the ladies that their quilts were really something else: They were art.

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Within months Gee's Bend quilts were selling for hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. An exhibition toured museums. The designs—beautiful geometric patterns that resembled modernist paintings—were slapped onto coasters and ties and rugs and note cards.

Awash in newfound celebrity and unprecedented wealth, some of the quilters bought furniture, cars, a new stove for the first time in thirty years.

Then the distrust began to build. There were lawsuits. There were allegations that the dealer wasn't passing profits on to the women. There were claims of financial mismanagement.

One day I went to talk with one of the oldest quilters. We sat on her rickety front porch, on one of those suffocatingly hot Southern afternoons. I went into nosy-journalist mode, all my questions revolving around one theme: She clearly hadn't gotten rich, but didn't she want to be? Wasn't she upset?

Gazing out at the dusty road, she told me about the old days, about the civil rights movement, about how poor the town had always been, about God's faithfulness throughout. Then she stopped talking. All I could hear was birdsong.

Finally she turned to me. She had an answer to my questions, a favorite Psalm she wanted to share: “The Lord is my shepherd.” She paused and then continued, stopping after each word for emphasis: “I. Shall. Not. Want.”

Never let me forget, Lord, that my truest riches lie in knowing You.