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February 11 2013



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?


  1. This is so sweet, I love it.

    Also, when you said “time is river” that was just close enough to get that Garth Brooks song about a river stuck in my head.

    • Jessica,

      Thank you, friend. And are you blessing me or cursing me for the Garth Brooks ear worm?? :)

  2. What an awesome tradition! It’s interesting how traditions can grow and change and become more than what was first envisioned. And then, looking at how they change us. Maybe y’all can Skype your tea this year or figure out a way to observe it, even if you can’t be in the same place.

    Such a lovely reflection, Robin.

    • Leigh,

      Your optimism makes me smile; in an odd turn of events, not only is my daughter 10 hours away but both me and my mother in law have had surgery in the past week! We’ll just take that Valentine part of it and push it so spring and confuse the heck out of Cupid. Not that he ever had anything to do with it, anyway :).

  3. Lee H

    I love that tradition….I would bet it has many revivals…

    • Thanks Lee (although I’m not quitesure what you mean by revivals :).)

  4. and the true test of a precious tradlition of love is being flexible….not being rigid no matter what but bending with the changes of life’s seasons and being ok with that….the love is even stronger!!!

    • Dy,

      Flexibility is a virtue; it’s a good thing that with age my BODY might be less flexible, but my spirit is all the more bendy :).

  5. Lynn Warren

    You make the second friend who has had knee surgery this month that I have had the opportunity to pray for!! February is knee surgery month? Thank the dear Lord I missed that memo!! Yikes!! But, seriously, I do pray for you swift, as little as possible-pain recovery, as only He can bring. Take care, dear friend,and again thanks for sharing a lovely memory!


    • Lynn,

      Well, I would have happily PASSED on this blaste memo! I’m finally in a state of mind to reply to comments. Thank you for your kind words and prayer; both mean so much to me. xo

  6. Bonnie Jean

    I would die for a family or in-laws who wanted to do such a thing with me and my daughter (although I don’t have one I could bring a girl who has lost her mom that I am close to )… just to think of the love and tradition I would go around the world to get that… I think such bonds of love and tradition are a huge part of what is missing in families and the world in general today. We have stopped celebrating love and family… we have not made it a priority… I think we really need to get back to that or we will lose our country to secularism and individualism. You can be who you are and still be a part of something bigger. The tea is like a small picture of that. I am in the midst of decorating the dining room for dinner tonight. I have two sons and they get upset if there is no visible sign of every holiday on the calendar ! And they are big burly men now… almost ready to leave the nest !!! The budget is tight but I am putting out my pink table cloth and kisses and hugs in red, pink and silver all over the table and dining room. A few other decorations around the house as well. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your family and to all who read this !!!

    • Bonnie Jean,

      I lost my mom to cancer when I was 9 and my grandmother (with whom I was very close) the following year, so I’m beyond grateful for the provision of inlaws I adore. I know not everyone shares that kind of relationship and I consider it one of God’s most precious graces to me.

      LOVE that you’re decorating the dining room tonight! You demonstrate that despite a tight budget, you can make the evening special. GOOD for you!! :)

  7. It is not the mian point of this post I realize, but– though I LOVED the whole thing– what will forever stick with me is this line: “Once he had the audacity to look at her with hungry eyes and tell her You look luscious right in front of me.” Oh, what a love to aspire to… :)

    • Jessie Leigh,

      Really, I put too much in this post; but I was up against a deadline and had so many thoughts swirling, I didn’t have time to sift ’em properly. But you should see these two…they’re STILL sweetheart in love in a way that is sweet and precious and enviable. I’m so happy you made a point of that line; I loved writing it :).

  8. Oh, what a GORGEOUS “story!” No matter where you are writing, I hope I can always find you, because you always teach us a lesson! How IS your knee?

    • Elaine!! THANK YOU. What you said is like a paycheck to me :). My knee is healing pretty much like it’s supposed to…surely and not quite as fast as I’d prefer :). Thanks for asking (and stalking me 😉 :).)

  9. Theresa

    I put away the Valentine’s decorations on Thursday night thinking, should I just throw this stuff away. It is kind of corny that I decorate for each holiday. But after reading your post, I took myself out of the equation and realized my husband and children would think it odd if, in a week or so, they do not see the familiar bunnies and hand decorated eggs that annually find their place in my kitchen. It reminds them of younger days, with egg hunts, and new dresses, and baskets awaiting them on Easter morning. I am sure the bunnies thank you for releasing them from the darkness into their rightful glory, even though short lived. And I will proudly decorate the table and showcase my Easter/spring decoration without feeling dull, mundane and old-fashioned. Thank you tapping into memories that we often shared, my dear ole’ friend.

    • :) I’m smiling thinking about your house, Theresa :). Gosh, we shared many good times at yours, mine and a few others. THOSE were glorious days and we didn’t even know it (now YOU have me strolling down Memory Lane).

      Now, with just boys in my house…and a house that hasn’t been my “forever house”, it’s harder to WANT to go through these motions. The Valentine Tea, well THAT was a big something (it IS a big something); but otherwise? I’m seeing how those things don’t have quite the same appeal; but now YOU have encouraged me to reconsider. I have my bunnies out (to garage sale or goodwill or ???) but maybe now you might’ve saved ’em from the chopping block :).

      And thank you for calling me OLE’ friend…not OLD friend 😉 :). xo


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