Labor of Love quilting retreats began as an excuse.
An excuse to sew? No.
An excuse to gather with friends? No.
An excuse to love on a friend? Yes.
We knew our friend was struggling. A breast cancer diagnosis and tough chemotherapy took over her life, but did not rob her of her smile, her gentle encouragement, or her love of quilting. We hoped to help encourage her. She did that instead for each of us.
We came from Ohio, Kansas, and Utah to spend a weekend together. Our priority was love. Sometimes our friend dozed while we ironed, stitched, or cooked. Sometimes we laughed together and learned from her. We tried to make her Monster cookies, but used the wrong peanut butter and overbaked them too. We ate every last cookie, and all of the fillings that couldn’t be stirred in.
We all wanted to help in some way, but didn’t know quite how. So each of us on our way stopped for a loaf of bread or two. Seven women and eight loaves of bread!
Some of us never sewed a stitch the whole weekend, and others took their first turn at a sewing machine ever, while others with experience whipped up quilt tops or quilted and bound with ease. It didn’t matter. Our priority was love.
Our youngest quilter had learned to sew from our friend at a previous Labor of Love event, sewing in a motel room, and then hand-stitched at home for months (and on the airplane) dozens of 9-patches for her first full quilt. When she watched her good friend sew an entire quilt top in a day, she felt the need for speed, and borrowed a machine to sew them together and add sashing.
Our friend taught us how to sew, and how to ‘unsew’ when mistakes were made, and how to answer the question, “Are you happy with that?”, accepting the answer no matter what. She taught us how to be happy and smile through her discomfort and even fear, especially when her fever spiked just a little too high and warranted an unplanned trip to the emergency room an hour away. When she returned home, there were marshmallows to roast in the fireplace. Something sweet.
When, just trying to help, a quilt top that had been meticulously planned to be symmetrical was sewn together with ‘mistakes’ made late in the night, she taught us how to see the beauty and the wonder in the completed creation, mistakes and all. That quilt will forever be our ‘quilt of life’ – a reminder than when things don’t go according to our plan, we can still choose to see the beauty in the creation.
Our friend, Rhenda, fought and lived with love for almost three years after this retreat, but stitch by stitch, her legacy of love lives on still in the lives of many more people than she could have imagined. We remember this special weekend on its fifth anniversary in loving memory of our friend.
May we honor her memory by how we live and how we love.