There’s something mesmerizing about the way a creek flows…constant, relentless unapologetic, purposeful; a one-directional wanderer, an effortless meander, masterful sculptress slowly chiseling banks and boulders. Imperceptible erosion or violent torrent, eventually she’ll carve them into something new, change their appearance, soften edges, alter course.
Time is a river.
Time is constant, relentless, unapologetic, one directional; sculpting me into something new, changing my appearance, softening my edges, altering my course.
I’m astonished when I think about natural laws; the way different things are so similar. My DNA has remained constant my entire life, and yet I’m hardly the same person I was when I was born.
Heck, I’m not the same person I was last week.
My daughter was three when my mother-in-law asked me if I was interested in hosting a Mother-Daughter Valentine Tea Party. She didn’t envision a one-time affair but an annual event, culminating in a “Sweet 16 Party,” the one where we’d finally invite boys.
Sarah grew up in another time, where you were something if you had a television, and then only black and white. Families had a single phone–black, corded and rotary dial. When you wanted water your only option was tap, and if you liked it cold you’d crack ice from metal trays.
She met Tommy at The Sweet Shop when she was 14 years old and it was first-sight love for both. They were innocents in the best of ways, and though he sowed an oat or two they made good choices and hard decisions and nearly 60 years later they’re still together.
When they look at each other you can still see their love…my God, you can almost feel steam rising. Once he had the audacity to look at her with hungry eyes and tell her You look luscious right in front of me.
Peering through circa 1950s rose-colored glasses my mother-in-law imagined her granddaughter’s Sweet 16 party in 50 shades of pink.
Our Mother-Daughter Valentine Tea party began when my daughter was three. The format remained the same those early years–a menu of heart-shaped PB&Js, black cherry Jell-O Jigglers, hand-pressed buttermints, chocolate-dipped strawberries. There was always a craft and you’d better believe it was Spiritually Significant; a Bible verse will spiritualize all manner of glitter and glue.
Year after year our Tea got better and bigger and then one year it became a Monster. Too many people, a peculiar sense of entitlement, and for me, the fun bone-dried to desert. That was the year I decided would be the last, because Time hadn’t yet peeled my eyes wide to see beyond myself.
But by the time the next year rolled around Time had softened a weary edge, and rather than kill the Party Beast altogether, I moved the venue an hour and a half out of town to my mother-in-law’s house. The event was re-calibrated, narrowed to a family affair; me and my sisters-in-law each had a daughter who was allowed to invite one friend and her mom.
Three generations of women around a beautifully set table.
A bend in Time. Sacred.
A decision that rendered nonsense any ideas about a Sweet 16 with boys in a few years.
But I hadn’t yet learned it wasn’t about me.
Years continued to stream by and February was always marked with our Valentine Tea at my in-laws.
And then one summer we moved out of State, five hours away.
My daughter is the only girl and oldest of three children, and leaving my husband and young sons behind for a girls weekend required planning, and to a lesser degree, sacrifice.
When I returned from the Valentine Tea that year, I decided it had run its course. I grumbled. I complained. I played the martyr card, sooo inconvenienced was I having to drive all that way! It had become a Monster again, though this time instead of a Bigger and Better Monster, is was the Monster of Inconvenience.
I would have 11 months to work up the nerve to tell my sweet mother-in-law. I pretended not to know it wouldn’t just disappoint her, it would break her heart.
There’s this thing about faith, it’s not static.
Years ago, a friend gave me a pearl I’ve treasured ever since. I was lamenting the unimaginable circumstance of a mutual friend, grieving the crib death of her months’ old baby. “I don’t know how she’s handling it, how you survive, move on….” and my friend stopped and turned to me.
“You can’t imagine it because you don’t need to know how you’d manage it right now. When awful things happen in your life, only then will God give you the grace you need to get through it.” It wasn’t mine to know right then.
This was light bulb, epiphany. It’s preached itself back to me many times since.
I’ve come to see scripture the same way; how you can read a passage during one season in life and it means one thing (or sometimes I just can’t grasp its truth at all), and then years later I can study it again and it takes on greater significance, new meaning….
“‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you…” Deuteronomy 5:26a
“‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—” Ephesians 6:2
“Do nothingfrom selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3,4
In the months following our annual Valentine Tea, my heart started shifting.
Familiar verses I’ve heard all my life began a refining work, sculpting me into something new, softening my edges, altering my course.
Though I appreciated the tradition of our tea, during that year I began to see its beauty and importance to the women in our family. With refreshed heart, I understood how this tradition wasn’t about fancy food and party favors, it was about our relationships, setting aside time to pour into one another. A grandmother, daughters, sisters-in-love, friends–esteeming our feminity, the stories of our family, older women teaching young girls by example.
I was seeing it through my mother-in-law’s eyes. It wasn’t about me or her or my daughter or any one of us…it was about all of us!
Time and Truth were my teachers. Two rivers shaping my heart to put into action my regard for another.
Valentine’s Day is Thursday and I’m painfully aware I’ll be recovering from today’s knee surgery AND my daughter is in the middle of a four-month internship 10 hours away. We won’t be able to celebrate our Mother-Daughter Valentine Tea again this year….
But I’ve learned that one of the best things about tradition is that it’s ours to shape. If something is important enough, you can make it happen.
“It’s not about me” is one of the hardest things to learn – to live – isn’t it?
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Originally published for Deeper Family.