The national dish of my household was tea and toast, preferably with orange marmalade and butter, or butter and honey, or butter and jam, or just butter. Mom used to reminisce fondly over types of jam especially one she loved as a child which she could never find here in the states, gooseberry jam. Her mother would give them a gooseberry dipped in sugar as a treat. I fantasized about gooseberries, imagining what type of delectable morsel they could be. For every event, good, bad, or ugly, we had tea. If I were home, sick Mom would come back at lunch and eat with me. I’d make food, take out her precious wedding china and crystal glasses, place lace on her chair, and put an Irish linen tablecloth on the table for an impromptu tea party.
Tea was such an integral part of our lives that when my mother would see my kids and me walking down the path to her apartment, she’d put on the kettle so that we could have a cup soon after we arrived. She’d have my enormous mug in “my spot” at the kitchen table, and she’d have her favorite, a happy bunny hugging itself with the caption, “Jesus loves me” in her spot. Her favorite mug now lives in my cabinet nestled in amongst her half of the china from the divorce, and what remains of the crystal glasses, and some favorite mugs. Besides the fancy ones we used on special occasions, we rarely had glasses. Everything was drunk from a mug because tea was the most important drink. I believe it was our love affair with tea that produced her T.E.A. epiphany.
A few years before her death, I started finding notes around her place written on half index cards with the letters “T.E.A.” in the center and bordered with hearts. I didn’t mention it at first since Mom frequently put up notes – usually bible verses or some saying on which she wanted to focus. On the wall behind where the front door opened, hung a small mirror. It was lovely and old, a gold leaf frame with a cracked four-inch painted glass portion at the top festooned with butterflies. Growing up we had all used it for a quick check of our face and hair as we left the apartment. One day, in the lower right corner of the frame a “T.E.A.” card, cropped up. Finally, I was compelled to ask what the whole “tea” thing was about. Since when did she need a reminder for tea? Explaining through a tender smile, she told me that it was an acronym to remind her to give, “Thanks for Everything Always.”
That mirror is now in the mudroom of my house where we enter, and we use it the same way it had always been used. Occupying the bottom corner of the frame, the weathered, half an index card, with curling edges Mom taped there, is still there. The colors aren’t as vibrant, but the message continues to shine just as brightly.
Being “Thankful for Everything Always” is a tall order. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, put-upon, frustrated, persecuted, hated, stressed, angry, or exhausted in this day and age. Looking at myself in that mirror with my mother’s message staring back at me, it gives me strength, courage, and sometimes, a new perspective. Can one be thankful for being hit by a drunk driver? What about being unable to work? Being forced to be homebound? Having to rely on people for the most basic needs when what you have been most proud of in your life has been your strength and self-sufficiency?
Actually, YES! In changing my attitude to one of gratitude, by being “Thankful for Everything Always,” I can be. I am thankful that my son dilly-dallied coming out and not was getting into the car when it was hit. I’m grateful that my little girl who had taken off her seatbelt to look out the window suddenly felt compelled to get back in her seat and buckle up seconds before the crash. I’m thankful that my other daughter stayed home and wasn’t involved. I’m grateful that I have had the opportunity to be with my children as they have been going through struggles of their own when I would have otherwise been at work. I’m appreciative that my convalescence has given my kids the opportunity to step into new leadership roles at home. I am thankful that His strength had been made perfect in my weakness; that I am forced to rely on Him instead of myself. Because I have had little say in my path, there is no doubt in my mind about who is captaining my life’s ship and who is plotting the course.
Time to grab my family for a T.E.A. party!