Nola blanket-stitched around the curves of the appliquéd leaf, finishing the quilt, a birthday present for her niece. She couldn't wait to see the soon to be nine year old's expression when she opened it.
It fitted the description perfectly of detail Cherryn had passionately expressed for Nola.
Only, she hadn't known Aunt Nola had been asking the design of her very own, personal quilt. Nola had discreetly disguised her questions by asking Cherryn how she would plan out next year's art project. Something really personal.
"I'll have grape vines on it, 'coz that's all around where we live. And I'll paint my name in curly letters at the bottom. The sky will be violet blue that blends into the sunset we see every night . In one corner will be the horse track and Fern running on it with me on her back."
Nola had choked at this point in their phone conversation. Cherryn continued oblivious to the silence at the other end.
"Then I'll add my family, and Nurse Emily, but at the centre is the most important. That's where the cross goes."
Nola sobbed, "Don't mind me, Cherryn. Every year older, the more I blubber. That sounds like the most beautiful art project I'll ever see."
Nola hung the quilt from the mantle piece so she could capture every detail. Yes, it was exactly as Cherryn had described, but under the cross she'd sewn her favourite words, certain they'd become Cherryn's too.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (ESV)
It had taken hours to stitch the verses so neatly, but Nola was determined to include the whole paragraph that had held her together.
Thinking back to the camoflaged body Nola had finally stumbled across a year earlier was a dangerous edge of her memory to disturb. Flashes of the jittery horse, the giant gum, and pale, apparently breathless, Cherryn beneath it all. Only her face showed through a swamp of eucalypt leaves. Her niece, she believed, was dead.
When the paramedics and emergency crew finished cutting away the giant branch that had fallen, they revealed that only her legs were clamped down, but her whole body was in shock. If they didn't give Cherryn immediate treatment, the toxic shock from removing the weight off her legs would flood her arteries and kill her within minutes. But by now the grey mass of cheeks and fear rippled eyes had woken.
All Nola knew was to whisper:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
In a terrified voice she continued,
Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil.
For your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever. (Psalm 23, ESV)
Cherryn breathed out her final request, "Aunt Nola, when they lift this branch, I really do want to dwell in the house of the Lord forever, but I don't know how."
Nola led her small niece in the shortest prayer they could both mumble.
"Lord Jesus, please be my Shepherd. Please forgive me. Please take me through the valley of death to be with you."
Cherryn's breath blew right out of her and Nola was certain it was her last.
The huge branch finally lifted to reveal tiny crushed legs.
'Ooowww!' Cherryn screamed.
Now one year later, Cherryn sat excitedly in her wheel chair, fumbling with the paper around Aunt Nola's present. A gasp escaped her small rose lips as the quilt unfolded before her, but Nola didn't witness the expression on Cherryn's face she'd expected.
'Ow!' exclaimed Cherryn with a frown.
'Are you hurting?' Nola asked with fear.
Cherryn pulled out her bloodied fingers holding a pin. She laughed away the anquish on Nola's face.
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