Tuesday, August 18, 2009

If Teacups Could Talk

'And it's not the teacups themselves that bring such a message of beauty and serenity and friendship-although my teacups do bring me much pleasure. It's not the tea, in other words, that makes teatime special, it's the spirit of the tea party'
- Emilie Barnes from her book 'If Teacups Could Talk'

This is a story of a teacup, a pretty china teacup, not unlike the one in this picture, a pavement (yes a pavement or sidewalk if you live in the USA!), a country town and hospitality which was bestowed upon a young wife and mother, an unusual act of kindness that she has never forgotten, which anchored in her heart to create a memory so precious, it still encourages her today and reminds her that a cup of tea can truly be a cup of kindness.

I was that young wife and mother and the scene I am about to describe unfolded in the early 1990s outside my home in a sweet, country town in the North Island of New Zealand where my husband and I bought our very first home.

Our first home. My husband built the new deck and stair rail and constructed the patio. Ever resourceful, he made all the pavers by hand to save us money!

I loved our first home, it was special because it was our very own and we relished the opportunity to transform this simple white timber home with a 70's showpiece interior (complete with orange bench tops in the kitchen and amber bubble glass panels everywhere!) into a more serene and comfortable family home where we could raise our children and welcome friends.

My husband set to work building a lovely timber kitchen, even though he was not a carpenter by trade, he wanted to use his hands creatively, to save us money by doing it himself and he designed a kitchen where his wife would just love to spend time developing her culinary skills, which of course would benefit him! He thought of everything... bench tops at a height to suit me, accessible glass fronted china cabinets, a wonderful corner pantry and an antique iron wheel suspended above the island to hold pots and pans and cooking utensils. When we later sold this home, the buyers stipulated that we had to leave the wheel! They loved it too!

The large living room had Axminster carpet in a swirly brown design ... not my favourite floor covering but it had to stay as it was in too good a condition to rip up ( it was the type of carpet made to last for decades!) But no one noticed what was underfoot as your eye was drawn to the view from the window. A garden with established fruit trees and a stunning maple tree, met the boundary fence of a farm. We had bought our home on the last street in town and rather than overlooking a neighbouring yard, we looked out over rolling green pastures and our only neighbours at the back were dairy cows... little did we realize then, that this was a taste of the life that was to come, five years later we would sell our first home and buy a dairy herd!

My husband with his first born son in 1992 (- he is 'eating' a flower! ) standing on the deck of our home overlooking our quarter acre paradise with its glorious maple tree and stunning rural backdrop. This beautiful outlook always made pegging out the washing a far more pleasant task!

The view and the established gardens were the draw cards and of course, the location. A quiet street in a 'good area'. It had belonged to an old man who loved his gardening and there were flowerbeds everywhere! A rockery in the back garden, flowerbeds along every fence and a front garden filled with flowering annuals... mainly marigolds to match the orange bench tops in the kitchen! I loved the English cottage garden look and the ample rainfall of this region allowed me to set about establishing a cottage garden to complement our country style home. I planted roses, lavender, daisies and all those flowers one associates with an English country garden!

Of course, a cottage garden is a lot of work. I spent hours weeding, trimming and pruning. I was very diligent in looking after the front garden which did not have a front fence. It was on full show... and it had four beds to maintain and a nature strip to mow. For some reason we had a pavement at the front of the boundary, as well as some nature strip next to the road. Most of the homes in the street only had nature strips up to their front fence. It was a very handy place to perch on my garden kneeler when I needed to weed the front garden bed.

It was a sunny afternoon and my baby son was sleeping soundly in the front bedroom. I would hear him if he awoke and I had decided to use this time to do some weeding in the front garden. I was now used to the solitude of staying home, I believe I was the only stay at home mum in the street! At 8am a procession of cars would leave for work and return at 5pm. There were retired folk living in the street but I rarely saw them. On that day as I ripped out the oxalis, only one car passed by, someone popping home for lunch I presumed.

'Hello there!' a kindly voice almost caused me to drop my garden fork, I was not used to meeting any neighbours during the hours of daylight! Standing on the path was an older lady dressed immaculately in a suit, she was holding a tray on which sat a china cup, a jug and plate. 'I drove past earlier and saw you working so hard in you garden, making it so lovely. I always notice it when I drive past. I thought you deserved some afternoon tea' She set down the pretty china cup of steaming tea, a jug of milk and a matching plate on which sat some dainty, sweet biscuits. 'Enjoy your tea, I'll pop back later to pick up the dishes.' And with that she walked away, leaving me to sip my tea on the pavement! I was rather stunned and had somehow managed to utter a thank you. I had never taken tea on the pavement before! I have to say I rather enjoyed it, the tea was refreshing but what was most uplifting was that I had just been the recipient of a most unusual act of kindness. I wonder how many of us would think to do something like this for someone they didn't know?

I did know who the lady was, she lived further up the road in the adjoining cul-de sac, her name was Pat and she was a local councillor, a very busy lady. I had seen her picture in the newspaper but I had never met her.

The next time I would meet Pat she would once again offer hospitality, not to me but to my dog! We had adopted a lovely Lassie lookalike, a rough collie named Rocky. He was adorable but liked to go walkabout, we had nicknamed him 'Houdini' because he always found a way out! I would spend hours searching the streets in our neighbourhood for him. On one of his most memorable escapades I had returned home without finding him and decided to take one more walk up the street. There were lots of cars parked outside homes, very upmarket cars - BMW's and late model sedans. Someone was having a party, a garden party to be precise. It was to celebrate Pat's 60th birthday I later found out and there among the smartly dressed guests I spotted mingling with the mayor and dignitaries, one rough coated collie.. my dog! I was so embarrassed when I had to enter the garden party to retrieve him. Rocky was loving every moment, attention had been lavished upon him and he had enjoyed lots of tasty gourmet morsels fed to him by adoring guests. I apologized profusely but was told not to worry, he had been most welcome, a lovely dog who had livened up the party no end!

Rocky our beloved Collie. He stopped going 'walkabout' when we moved to the South Island, he now had 300 acres to roam. He was one happy dog! We allowed him to retire to the farm when we moved to Australia. The new owners agreed to let him stay on but we missed him dearly!

These are some of my more unique memories of the early days of marriage and motherhood. I loved being home with my children, looking after my home and tending my garden but it was sometimes a very lonely place to be. No one to talk to, apart from a gurgling baby and a friendly dog. There were days when I wished I was 'Dr Do Little', if only that dog could talk human talk! I longed for adult company and conversation and so did the dog obviously who was so sociable he raided a party! He had class that dog, inviting himself to a gathering of some of the more affluent townsfolk! I did not have his kind of nerve! There were also times when I used to wonder if all the work I did at home was appreciated. Why did I spend so many hours pulling out weeds and planting flowers in the garden when people hardly ever passed by, we were not on a busy road or thoroughfare after all. Then God sent along an angel with a china tea cup to remind me that my work at home did not go unseen, that it bought pleasure to a lady who drove past every day on her way to work. And she recognized the hard work that was put into beautifying a simple home on a street in a country town. Just one simple act of kindness which spoke so much to me and told me I was appreciated and my work was of worth.

I have shared this story to encourage you. Perhaps you are in that same place I was. You have chosen to stay home to raise your children and be a wife and homemaker. You work hard but sometimes do not know if anyone really notices or cares. Maybe you were once someone with a career, a responsible job and you were daily affirmed and thanked for your contribution. This was my experience when I worked as an occupational therapist in the health service. I was told my role was vital and others begged me to reconsider when I informed them I was leaving to become a full time mother and homemaker. 'We need you Ann, don't leave!' But deep down in my heart I knew God was calling me home, I longed to be at home and I was needed at home by my husband and children. I was no longer designing activities for clients or delivering assessments at meetings. I was cooking, cleaning, changing nappies, doing laundry, weeding gardens. The work sometimes seems mundane and repetitive.... clothes get dirty and have to be washed again, the weeds grow back, the flowers die and you have to start all over again. And there are days spent in solitude, with no adult company until your husband returns and he is tired and just wants to relax rather than converse. I did learn not to share the woes of my day but rather the joys and the highlights (such as the story of my special afternoon tea!) and after a time, I realized that he did appreciate my work at home. He loved coming home to the aroma of a home cooked dinner, a clean and tidy home and although he did not always verbalize it, I do think he liked the flowers in the vase set out on the table. He didn't always notice the freshly weeded garden out the front but a lady called Pat did. The work we do at home is never in vain and it doesn't go unnoticed, you may think it does but a cup of tea on the pavement proved to me all those years ago that it ministers to someone and is pleasing to God!

Can I also dare you to be like Pat, the lady who bought me the cup of tea in a china cup! Perhaps you know of a young girl who works in her garden or maybe you have an older neighbour who is always out sweeping her porch. Would you be so bold to take her a gift or bless her with afternoon tea. You could even invite her into your home and share the gift of teatime together! And if you are not prepared for guests you could always serve tea on the pavement!

There are lots of wonderful ideas for sharing cups of kindness in this book by Emilie Barnes. She is one of my favourite authors. I learned all my homemaking and home organization skills from her books. She encouraged me to make my home a haven, a beautiful peaceful, welcoming abode for all who would live there or enter in. I wrote to Emilie to thank her for her books and she sent me a handwritten note of encouragement and thanks. I still have that note, it is one of my most treasured possessions! She writes 'Dearest Ann, I was so touched and impressed by your letter. It really made my day, your ideas are wonderful and beautiful....' This little note encouraged me to start running my 'Creating Christmas' seminars from my home which have blessed many women over the years! If you are not so bold as to serve tea on the pavement, perhaps a simple handwritten note from you to an aspiring homemaker will be what God uses to encourage her to continue her blessed work at home!

Another glimpse of my Family Vision poster which reminds me daily that as a homemaker, I am to create a sanctuary for family and friends, to have a welcoming home where hospitality is a way of life!

Today, whatever you are doing, I pray that you are feeling blessed to be in the place where God has ordained for you to be. You may be outside pulling out weeds in the garden, rocking a baby to sleep in your arms, cleaning windows or preparing a meal. Know that every task you do that serves another is important and God sees it as vital work in His kingdom and admonishes us to do it! '

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.' Colossians 3:17

With love and joy,


Farming On Faith said...

I have that book.
Emilie has always been one of my favorite too!
Great minds think alike!

Kristen, pajama mama said...

Wow, what a story. Neighbors like that are rare treasures!

I get really stuck indoors staying home with my kids, and it can be draining, but your advice to get out and encourage others is very wise. Thanks for sharing your teacup's story!

Chookie said...

What a lovely post -- I must look out for the author too!

SF said...

Ann, this was a very encouraging and beautiful post, thank you. :) I love the bit about the lady coming to bring you tea- how special!!

I also want to encourage you in your upcoming birth. Cathy's hospital experience was quite positive. After supporting me through my last home birth she was quite upset not to be having one herself - and tried ever so hard to make it as home birth-like as possible.
She wrote a very thorough birth plan, indicating would she gave consent to and what she did NOT. It was typed out on 2 A4 pages and put in her file. Thankfully the lovely midwife we'd prayed to be 'on', was! God is amazing. :) I saw her reading the birth plan in the corner of the birthing suite- then it was placed on the table next to the bed Cathy was on. She referred to it a few times. I think Claire may have info on writing a birth plan on her website- if you can't find it let me know and I'll get some info to you. I really doubt she would have been able to communicate her desires during her labour so it was important to have submitted that information prior to the birth. There was no fetal monitoring other than checking bubs' heartbeat with the doppler- once! No wires or anything. No needles. Cathy and Gary and I were pretty much left alone, we had brought a cd player and the cd from home we'd had on- lights were soft, etc. The midwife assisted with delivery but that was it. I found that although that particular hospital is normally very hands-on in terms of interfering with the natural birth process (with awful results), Cathy's birth plan and wishes were respected. It was great. Just thought this may encourage you as I know you desperately want a natural, home-birth like birth also. :)
All the best!

Beth Braden said...

I can really relate to your story. I too used the book If Teacups Could Talk with young women in my youth group at church. The devotions in this book are wonderful and the meaningful relationships that can be built while sipping tea are priceless. Thanks for sharing!

Fruitful Harvest said...

I love and collect tea cups!
I host a friendship tea in my home once a year,
with teas sandwiches and all!

Blessings to you,
Georgiann from The Garden Gate

PS I'm hosting a giveaway if you'd like to come over and enter?!

I love to make new blog friends!

steve the plumber said...

If Teacups Could Talk

thanks for sharing


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