Archive | February, 2016

Tiny Tea Cups and a Girl Long Gone

26 Feb

What is truly of great worth?

NOTE: Today’s blog is made possible by a book of writing prompts given to me by my husband on our anniversary, and also by a cold, lazy day that turned out to be good for nothing but sitting by the fire and avoiding work. I will have to write tonight to make up for the lost time, but my brain has decreed this a day for musings.

So, the prompt?
Write about an item you own that is not worth much money but is of great value to you.

My mind immediately brings forth The Tea Set. It represents, not only a bygone era, but a mystery, and, as I think of it, a challenge.

Child's porcelain tea set

Toys? My how things have changed. (By the way, they’re a lot smaller than they look.)

It’s a child’s tea set, made of china, from a pre-plastic era—1885 or so, judging from what I know of the girl I believe was its earliest owner owned it. I cannot determine its manufacturer, as it has no markings, but its design is eclectic at best. The delicate blue and white tea pot is merely four inches tall, wrapped in a rural Asia-like scene of pagoda-topped buildings nestled in the hills and a multi-domed city scape in the distance. My thumb and forefinger look monstrously large as I gingerly grasp the fragile handles on the tiny cups, noting what appears to be a fading fairy sprite hiding in its lush flowery field.

I’m almost afraid to hold the accompanying saucers, which have worn thin and are warped with age, but I can’t resist. They are the same blue and white colors, yet their design seems to be of sparrows darting through a garden.

I try to picture this beautiful, dainty tea service being casually tossed about by some 5-year-old girl; she sitting at a child’s table, pouring imaginary refreshment for the blue-eyed china doll across from her. Why aren’t these dishes cracked and broken? Perhaps children played more calmly back then. Perhaps it was her only toy and she handled it with great care. Or, perhaps, in reverence, she kept them on a shelf, knowing that a woman with a girl’s heart would one day take great joy in their elegance. I’ll always wonder. . .

I know who she was, though, that little girl. But I know so little about her it’s almost shameful. She was my great grandmother, Grace Leahy Craig, who grew up in Wausau, Wisconsin and married Angus Craig, my great grandfather, in June of 1904. When we were children, we were told she linked us to Admiral William Leahy, the Navy’s first five-star admiral, who served during World War II as Roosevelt’s Chief of Staff even before the title had been created, and before that as Chief of Naval Operations, and as governor of Puerto Rico. Sadly, today he is typically only mentioned in jest, for his famous quote about the atomic bomb: “That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The atomic bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.”

grace and arthur 54

Grace and Angus in a Newspaper Clipping from 1954.

But as I dig, I’m more and more convinced Grace’s ancestry did not spring from that shoot of the tree. She was raised by Civil War Capt. John E. Leahy and his wife, Mary. However, their death notices do not name her as a daughter. William Leahy’s father was Michael, possibly John’s brother, who does bear that name, which would make her a cousin by adoption at best. Family lore speaks of a terrible ship explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia that left her an orphan, but I cannot connect those dots yet. Perhaps one day when I’m a famous author I’ll hire an agency to solve this mystery.

 

Grace lived until her 90s, and I do remember visiting her with my grandfather when I was quite young, in the early 60s. We didn’t call her Grace or Grandma, but Dearie. Not sure why. I remember her in the 70s as a frail old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s. Never would I have believed she once played with toys.

I first saw this tea set when my mom inherited it from her mother, sometime around 1995, and I scoffed at its primitiveness. Even then, the plates were warped and the design had faded. However, each time I saw these little pretties I became more intrigued about child who played with them. And when the set came into my possession upon Mom’s death, I fell in love, and today I’d never part with it. I yearn for the simpler time it represents, a time when children played using their imaginations, when it was socially acceptable for girls to play tea party, when one or two toys was considered sufficient.

So what is of great worth? It’s certainly not our possessions, or I’d know more about this set; it’s not in beauty, or I’d feel sad at the faded design; and it’s not our heritage, although that’s interesting — not knowing our past doesn’t make us less amazing people. Great worth is found in the heart. It’s that which makes us care about each other, feel for each other, remember each other. The value is in the loving.

And the challenge? It occurred to me as I started writing this, my mother’s twin brothers still live in Rhode Island. I don’t know why I haven’t thought to contact them about their grandmother. Surely they have a few pieces of the puzzle that I don’t. Of course, this is going to require a trip “up east,” to the land of sandy shores and stone walls, but I’m willing to endure the heartache. Rhode Island-ho!

Thank you, book of prompts, for this trip down memory lane, and for the potential trip ahead.

So tell me, dear readers, what do you have that holds great worth, if only to you?

———–

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. –Prov. 11:24-25

 

Depressingly Close to Darkness? Step Back.

10 Feb

They say God won’t give you more than you can handle. I say that’s a bunch of baloney.

I’ve been mulling over that phrase for a few weeks now, after a recent email conversation with a friend. I know the sentiment comes from a good place, but these words present such a simplistic view of a complex God that I’m wondering if uttering them as solace might do more damage than good. I can think of three families right this minute who are struggling with more than they can handle.

Did their troubles come from God? I don’t think so. The Bible tells us that all good things come from God, but all we know for sure about the negative is that sometimes He allows bad things to happen. Still, is it any consolation when we’re hit with tragedy or pain that it probably didn’t come from God? The logical response to that thought is, well then, why is He allowing it?

Every year about this time I go through what I’m finally beginning to recognize as depression. It may be a seasonal effect brought on by the dark and cold, the short winter days, and the weariness of less exercise, but this year it’s compounded by a heart-wrenching sadness because people I love are hurting deeply, and a fearful awareness of life’s uncertainty. We’re not guaranteed a single breath on this earth, let alone another hug from a loved one. How can we not become depressed at such revelation?

We can start by stepping back into the light and reexamining the situation. By remembering that darkness is not a color, but a tool that hides color. Under the proper light, we can see so much more of the picture. Sometimes what we think is revelation is actually the lie.

I often imagine my life as a beautiful tapestry being woven together strand-by-strand, the joy and sadness creating rich colors of every hue that merge with and contrast each other in a dramatic, unique story that only my life can tell. Sometimes, particularly in the winter months, I find myself with my face pressed into a tiny portion of that tapestry, sobbing at its bleakness. If I step back at all, it’s likely in a desperate attempt to yank out the dark strands and replace them with more joyful colors. I can’t weave, so I stuff and jam strands into the crevices until they look like weedy tufts spilling out at odd angles.

The Weaver knows, however, that if I could chose my own colors, and even if I could weave them in, I’d ruin everything. Without the dark hues, the final creation would just be evidence that I existed. What I imagined as bright colors would seem dull and ordinary, because without challenge or adversity, what would bring true joy? There might be an absence of sorrow, but that’s not joy. The entire piece would probably look beige.

Up close look at a carpet

Up close, the lines make no sense. I thought about including the bigger picture, but we each have our own, so I leave that part to you.

To fully understand the artwork AND the dark colors, I must stand all the way back and view the creation as a whole. In that light, I’d see an amazing story of victory and triumph over, at times, seemingly insurmountable odds, I’d see surprising twists and turns just when the end seemed sure, and I’d see a testimony about God’s bountiful goodness and generosity toward a woefully undeserving child.

Lately, I’m envisioning my own tapestry as a single strand in itself, being woven into the lives of those around me. When we purposefully examine how our lives are intertwined, and how much we can affect each other, we can become either overwhelmed or awed at the concept. I choose awed, because I know the Weaver, and I trust Him.

You see, it’s in those times of going through more than we can handle that we’re forced to give up trying to manipulate the strands by ourselves. He never expected us to handle it all. He wants us to let Him weave, to lean on Him, to pour our hearts out to him, and to love him regardless of what we see in the tapestry up close. In the right light, we can see our lives, not as fragile possessions we might lose at any moment, but gifts in which every undeserved breath and hug is a treasure. We can look to others and see how our strands are aligning, whether for one season or for many years, and to notice how, intertwined, they strengthen each other.

So it is with awe that we can step back and see the tapestry He’s weaving, understanding that we’ll never, under this sun, be able to see it all. But if that part we can see, if we look with the proper light, is so stunningly magnificent, just imagine the entire story!

I know, even as I write this, that it’s not always easy to take a step back. If you’re like me, and you still have your face meshed into the darkness, promise me that you will at least remember there’s a bigger picture around you, waiting for you to turn your face. When you’re ready, look up first, and trust Him to help you see it.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6