When you drink tea, you come to know the lingo. Teas are usually rated on body, astringency, fragrance, and liquor. I find myself thinking of books the same way, both in reading and writing. Tea & Crumples has daily graces as its body. It’s full-bodied with grace, but not very astringent, like the best-loved tea of the main character Sienna.
I thought of the idea for Tea & Crumples the tea shop and stationery store in college. I went to university in a small town with a vibrant main square around the courthouse. The buildings were elegantly proportioned brick with plate windows and balconies running along the walls inside. There was a building there that put me in mind of the perfect place to meld my love of tea and my love of fine papers. I purchased a notebook and wrote out a business plan and menu. Then I put it away for a Plan B, in case grad school didn’t work out, or in case life failed me somehow.
In the dark, the blanks on the pages filled with story. By my second year of grad school, I was writing letters to friends in the persona of Cleotis Reed. He was the narrator then, telling the world about Sienna and her shop, Tea & Crumples. His aged wisdom always came across in words as Southern as BBQ.
Around the time that Cleotis was turning my backup plan into a novel, I read Kathleen Norris’ essay, “Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work.” I was moving deeper into the Christian tradition, focusing my time and scholarship on the 3rd and 4th century fathers. Norris’ essay opened my eyes to the sacredness of daily rituals. It was through her insight that I saw the history I was reading come alive. I could see how the fathers lived out what they said. I was attracted ever deeper into the living, ancient faith.
Eight years, two children, and two masters degrees later, I found myself on the brink of publishing Can’t Buy Me Love, my debut novel. The process of writing one novel to publication shook loose the story that needed to unfold in Tea & Crumples. I delved in, spinning a story through sadness and joy. The book threw me a surprise early on when I discovered that Sienna had lost a pregnancy at 19 weeks. My outline had not contained that detail originally, but it made sense. I wrote the characters forward through the shadow of grief.
I was about 1/4 through the first full draft of Tea & Crumples when my personal life took an unexpected turn as well. Our third child whom we awaited with great joy and expectation died by miscarriage at around 10 weeks. Anyone who has experienced such a loss knows the horror of it. But I was left with an additional layer of grief. I had to finish the novel I had started, the story of a woman I had loved and imagined for over a decade, who lost her child in stillbirth.
That’s when I began to experience the truth of the words I had already written and the faith I had long held. I believe that God seeks us out wherever we are, in whichever state, and loves us. I believe that we can let ourselves be found. There’s a line in Rilke’s Book of Hours about a thing “ripened until it is real” so that it “can be found when” God “reaches for it.” That was my hope, that by sticking to the habits of faith, tea, and love, I would look up one day and see God reaching out for me.
I wasn’t worried that God couldn’t find me. I was worried that I wouldn’t notice.
That’s where tea comes in again. There’s ritual with tea. It’s a drink of welcome and succor. Even when you drink alone, the ritual of tea makes you pause and assess. It’s the perfect rendezvous point for meeting in the valley of the shadow of death.
Tea & Crumples isn’t my personal story, but it echoes the healing in my life that came through the kindness of friends, through the steadying power of daily rituals, and the wellspring of grace in faithful marriage. Elder Sophrony of Essex advised, “Stand at the brink of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little, and have a cup of tea.” To me, that advice sticks to the heart of Tea & Crumples. God strengthens us not only in our struggles, but in our refreshment, for He is a good God Who loves humankind.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. If you have experienced loss, you might find a local remembrance day group by searching for October 15 events.
*Affiliate links are embedded above, but I would be pleased as peaches if you’d look up my books at your local independent bookstore. Here’s my local shop: The Regulator Bookshop.