Threadbare

(A short story, based very-loosely-not-too-tightly on Acts 9:34-42)

In the city of Joplin there lived a widow named Dory, who was always doing kind things for others, especially the poor. She was a skilled seamstress, and since the time of her husband’s death, several rooms of her home had been overtaken by bolts of cloth, and sewing machines, and a loom, and baskets of yarn, and great piles of clothes. She loved to sew and weave and knit clothes to give to her friends and family as well as to charity, though at times she felt obligated to continue her work only because of her reputation and because of her investments in so many supplies. One day, after working for weeks on an assortment of sweaters and socks, scarves and mittens, plaid shirts and plaid skirts and work pants and onesies, she donned her shawl, loaded up her gifts, and drove to the community shelter.

Dory was humble about her work, not an ostentatious giver. But to her surprise the shelter manager, who knew she was coming, made a big fuss over her that day. She draped over Dory’s shoulder a special sash that read, “The Lord loveth a cheerful giver,” and she encouraged her to walk among the people of the shelter to distribute her gifts. And so she did, and she was pleased to see joy from some, and confounded to see indifference from others, when she gave them the garments and raiments made by her own hands.

At last, in the far corner of the shelter, there was a young couple with a baby. They smiled and introduced themselves as Peter, Maggie, and baby Nicolas. Dory could not help noticing that Peter’s pants and shirt were threadbare, and Maggie had uncomfortably hoisted up her stained blouse over her breast to feed her baby. When Dory offered them a onesie, they insisted on undressing the baby to try it on him at that very moment. It was a perfect fit, and they were very grateful. When Dory offered the mother one of her specially designed sweaters with an ingenious buttoned flap over the chest for ease in breastfeeding, Maggie insisted on removing her blouse and bra to try it on at that very moment. The sweater was comfortable and the flap worked like a charm as she lifted it to continue feeding baby Nicolas.

Dorcas clothing the poor

Dory was a little surprised by the candor of this couple, but she also felt quite exhilarated by their appreciation. So without hesitation she offered Peter a pair of work pants with a plaid shirt. He insisted on trying them on at that very moment. As he began to remove his clothes, Dory looked away, feeling awkwardly prim even as she confirmed that others in the crowded shelter were watching the scene with interest. After a time in which she imagined that Peter would have finished putting on the new clothes, she turned around, and saw that he stood naked before her.

She suddenly felt very flushed, very stifled. Was it the shock of his nudity, was it the heat of the packed room, a lack of oxygen, was it the weight of the clothing she was both wearing and carrying? For some set of reasons, she fainted, and her clothes spilled all around her.

When she came to, Peter was standing over her, saying, “Get up, Dory!” And when she saw him, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up, and called out to the others in the shelter, “She is recovered!” and “The Lord loveth a cheerful giver!”

The shelter manager told Peter to try on the new clothes already. But Peter did not, saying instead, “Thank you, Dory, for your gifts to clothe me and my family. There are times when we need clothes, just as there are times when we need food, when we need shelter. But our bodies are also gifts–glorious gifts from God–and when we share our gifts unwrapped, we share in the generous community of God’s likeness. We are humble and unashamed.”

Dory still felt overly warm, but much better, and her mind was suddenly clear. She pulled the sash over her head and placed it, speechlessly and fearlessly, over Peter’s shoulder. She removed her shawl and draped it over the shelter manager’s back. She hugged Peter and his family, saying, “I have been hiding myself, binding myself tightly. But I believe you, and I believe in our gifts.” Then she turned to leave, and as she walked back through the shelter to the entrance, she removed her shoes, her stockings, her sweater, her pants, her blouse, her undergarments, giving all of these items cheerfully to the astonished people of the shelter.

The news raced through the town, and there were many who believed Peter. And Peter and his family stayed a long time in Joplin, living with Dory, the seamstress, who continued to sew and weave and knit for charity, even while practicing with her houseguests and friends a more fundamental and absolutely threadbare generosity.

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