Young and new in love, I unpacked the English stoneware dishes that my mother had helped me pick out at Jordan Marsh years before in anticipation of this day – the day when I would furnish my own home. She didn’t call it a hope chest. Not wanting me to put all my hope on getting married, she called it a “home chest,” for the day I would furnish my own household, married or not.
Yet there I was, newly married, as flush with love as the petite cranberry flowers printed on the cream colored dishes that I carefully set in the cupboard of the tiny apartment that my husband, Dana, and I had rented on the third floor of an old Victorian, halfway up the coast of Maine. Setting up our first home was among the happiest times in my life. Shopping for our own groceries. Learning to cook. Coming home to each other and sharing dinner each and every night on those delicate floral dishes.
Which piece broke first? Was it the sugar bowl with its rosebud lid? A round, hand-turned breakfast bowl? A dainty teacup? I don’t remember. Just like I don’t remember our first fight. The first night I cried myself to sleep. The first time I lashed out with angry words instead of love.
Inevitably, Dana and I hurt and disappointed each other. And one by one those delicate pink dishes broke. And broke. And broke. After six children, five moves and two decades of marriage, only one teacup remained, along with a single small plate, two bowls, a handful of saucers and a half-dozen dinner plates. For our twentieth anniversary, Dana bought me a bubble-wrapped sugar bowl to replace the one that had smashed. But within a year, that broke too.
The rare, now-vintage pattern, was expensive and hard to find. There wasn’t room in my budget for the few pieces that appeared online. Occasionally, wandering the aisle of a local thrift store, I’d look at the dishes, hoping to see my pattern there. The mismatched pieces that had replaced it reminded me of the broken parts of my marriage, the disappointments, the hurts. I debated discarding the dishes that remained and starting over with something more durable, something new. Wouldn’t it be easier?
Through prayer, perseverance and the encouragement of wise counselors, Dana and I learned to let go of the places where we’d hurt each other. Slowly, as God began to heal the shattered pieces of our lives, our marriage became richer, stronger, deeper. Then last weekend, wandering down the china aisle at Goodwill, I spotted a set of cranberry flowered stoneware saucers. My pattern! Then I saw the bowls and a teacup and three stacks of plates in three separate sizes! I scanned the shelf again and again, hoping to see the sugar bowl with its tiny rosebud lid. When I turned around, there it was on a bottom shelf along with a matching pitcher. At the register, I rummaged through my purse, pulling out dollar bills and counting coins. Amazingly, I had exactly enough – $19 with 48-cents left over.
“You won’t believe what I found!” I called Dana before heading home.
Standing in the kitchen together, I unwrapped the sugar bowl. Dana was as incredulous as I was. In twenty-three years of marriage I’d never seen this pattern on a store shelf. Of all the thrift stores, of all the days of the week, of all the china patterns, what were the odds? It was as if God had bent down and whispered in my ear that this gift of love was from him.
We love, I John 4:19 says, because God first loved us. His is the source of all love, and his budget is limitless. So this Valentine’s Day, even if your heart has been shattered. Even if it seems easier to discard whatever is left and to start over with something or someone new. Pray. Persevere. And seek the encouragement of wise counselors. That night, as I reached up to put away each plate and saucer, two words echoed in my mind. Love restores. Love restores. Love restores. The same God who loves you is waiting to restore the broken pieces of your life and the lives of those you love. And that is a hope worth furnishing your home with.
Meadow Rue Merrill, the author of Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. Her husband would like to add that none of the dishes were broken due to being thrown at him…