By Gloria Nesloney
While attending college, I was invited to my first tea party. I had never been invited to a tea party, so I didn’t know what to expect. I did not know what to wear, what to say, how to talk, and I was apprehensive about accepting the invitation because I was not sure who else was invited to the tea party. I did not know the person who sent me the invitation well enough, but because she was new to the college, I thought it was her way of trying to make friends. She was the leader of a Christian campus organization called Chi Alpha.
My mind wondered about the different movies I had watched about tea parties of prim and proper, rich and lovely gatherings of women talking amongst each other about their daily life. They were all dressed fancy with glamorous dresses and expensive jewelry. Their manners were of the utmost etiquette style. The movies looked at high society lifestyles as the camera focused on the mansions and the table setting. Tea was served with foods that may have been purchased and made with the occasion in mind to wow the guests.
Delicate teapots and matching tea cups, saucers, dainty spoons, and slow ladylike sips make the experience more elegant and memorable for the audience to wish they were enjoying the experience for themselves. That’s what television does. It made me want to be there, but only in my dreams because I would never be able to pull off a tea party like that, nor will I ever be so ladylike to fit in.
The invitation I received required an RSVP. It was written on homemade decoupage Victorian stationary appropriate for a fancy tea party. Though I was hesitant, I accepted the invitation. I had many questions but did not let it change my mind about attending. I had nothing fancy to wear, so I wore my best T-shirt and blue jeans. My hair was pulled back in a ponytail to keep it from flying in the wind when I walked to the tea party that would be held at the apartments close to the college. It was a Saturday tea party around 2:30 p.m. The RSVP did not have an ending time. I prepared myself to expect the gathering to be like the movies, a half-hour event. I tamed my wind-blown hair before I rang the doorbell.
The hostess of the tea party opened the door so gracefully and politely. She had a massive smile and made me feel like she was glad to see me. I was still trying to figure out how to act. I stuck my hand out to give her a handshake. She reached for my shoulders and hugged me. We were not strangers; I had known her for a few days when we started the semester. She hugged me like we were the best of friends. She welcomed me into her apartment, offering me a place to sit.
I’m sure she could tell I was nervous. She helped break the ice by handing me a small porcelain plate with finger sandwiches cut into little shapes. A few gourmet crackers and cheeses were perfectly arranged around some fresh vegetables. I thought, “Wow, this is so pretty.” She sat on the chair across from me in full view of a small table with fresh-cut flowers in a vase that gave a light fragrance to the atmosphere. There was enough room for us to set our plates down. There were matching saucers, tiny tea cups, and Victorian flowers in the middle of the table with folded, embossed napkins.
There was a beautiful teapot with hot water ready to be poured, and I could see the steam from the spout. Gourmet teas were available for me to choose from. When I selected my tea, the hostess cordially poured the hot water into my cup. I wanted to do the same for her, but she refused politely. Little did I know, you are not supposed to serve at the hostess’s house.
She was respectful in the topics she chose to talk about as I waited for more guests to show up. After finishing our lite hor d vores, she brought a small platter with perfectly piped iced petit fours, dainty nut cookies, and chocolate fudge squares. She warmed up some more water, and I was asked to select another tea for the dessert. Again she poured the water into my cup. This time felt slightly different; I was more relaxed and enjoyed our conversation and her hospitality. I did not want to leave, but I did not want to overstay my welcome. Just as I was ready to go about two hours later, I was surprised that no one else showed up. I found out later that I was the only one invited. She did all this just for me. Her act of kindness made me feel like I was royalty. She went out of her way to make me feel like a t-shirt, blue-jeaned ponytail queen for the day.
I was beginning my residential deep cleaning business, Here For You Home Services, in Freer, Texas. It was a hot spring in 2004 when I received a short handwritten note on the back of an envelope. It was a spontaneous invitation to have lunch with a client. The message was in plain sight, placed on the refrigerator with a magnet. I accepted the invitation. To my surprise, a table was set before me with hand-crocheted doilies as coasters for some sweet tea that was in Tupperware glasses. The ice was melting fast while the condensation dripped on the sides of the plastic. White paper plates had a bologna sandwich and some Fritos. That one-time invitation became a lifelong friendship with my client. When I have baloney sandwiches, I remember the kindness extended when I was busy working. Someone took the time to remember me and remind me that it’s okay to take a break occasionally.
Patience is part of the process of any great cup of tea. Before my planned long day of yard work, I would get my clean gallon-sized glass pickle jar and set it up with tea bags to naturally brew until I completed my task. I drank water throughout the time to do the yard work, and by the time I was done, the tea would be hot to add sweetener and drink warm or cold with ice in my favorite Mason jar glasses. Every sip was worth it knowing I had accomplished what I set my mind to do for the day. When I would spend time alone after a long workday, I would reward myself with some good music, a good book, sunflower seeds, and sun tea. The time it took to make the sun tea was always enough to make it dark the way I liked.
One day, someone saw me working in my yard and left an unexpected blessing of a large iced tea in a Styrofoam cup from a local restaurant. They placed it where I could see it and wrote on the cup, “Enjoy, Sister Gloria.” I already had sun tea brewing, but this act of kindness that day tasted so good because it was given to me without me asking for it or knowing who sent it. It was perfect.
I began my share of RSVP, spontaneous, and anonymous invitations to tea time as I began to understand that the act of kindness had more to do with giving than receiving anything in return. There have been texts at different times of the day to some who do not have time to chat and chew where the RSVP method is required so that I can share quality time with the person. It is not my habit to spontaneously show up for tea or invite myself to places for tea, but it has become one of the blessings of showing kindness to others.
With a busy schedule and limited time, I wanted to ensure I spent adequate time with friends and family. It has been my practice to give my undivided attention to those I am in fellowship with. With no interruptions, agenda, or preconceived topics, we would have a flow of conversation from one heart to another. I would have at least one friend when I moved into a new city. I would set aside some tea time to get away and enjoy their cordial, cozy atmosphere to sip and talk about what was on our hearts. We would laugh like no one was watching and cry as the topics were sometimes hard to speak of, but it was part of the healing that came when we expressed our truth. As much as I would plan a quiet, quaint eventful afternoon, the phone would ring. It was my habit never to answer the phone when I was in the presence of others, but this day was different.
It had been about a month and a half in 2023 when my friend’s husband passed, and I wanted to make our visit memorable. We planned to meet at her house Thursday evening after I left work. She had the tea ready to pour into the tall glass of ice, as was the habit when I was expected to visit. As we sat in her well-lit parlor, we began conversing about the new things happening in her life as she learned how to live a new life without her husband. She intimately shared the struggles, the memories, and the every-so-often sparks of new joy. We smiled and enjoyed each other’s company. I habitually drink my tea very slowly so the conversation would last at least an hour or so. The ice had almost melted, and I was close to my last few sips when my phone rang. I initially ignored it, but my friend excused herself momentarily. The phone rang again from the same phone number unfamiliar to me. I answered the call.
“We are looking for Gloria Nesloney.” the female voice said.
“Yes, that’s me. How can I help you?” I answered.
“You’re Mom went in for a routine checkup, and the cardiologist found 80% blockage. Your Mom has been admitted to the hospital and will need a quadruple bypass. Surgery is scheduled for Friday morning.” said the nurse.
“I’ll be right over,” I said as I continued to get information about the hospital’s location.
My friend returned to the parlor, and she noticed my countenance changed and my tone of voice quivered. As I tried to hold back tears from flavoring my tea, I gulped the rest down. I wanted to end our great fellowship on a good note. I explained to my friend what happened. She prayed for me. I asked to reschedule our tea time as I excused myself from attending to my Mom at the hospital.
I did not have time to pack or get anything ready, but I stayed the night at the hospital. Mom was in good spirits as nurses attended to her throughout the evening. We did not get any sleep that evening due to all of the medical equipment beeping and flashing and the nurses coming in at all hours of the night. Finally, Friday came. I ensured my boss knew I would be out of work for the day.
Mom was prepped for surgery, and with the strength and courage I knew my Mom had, we parted ways. She was headed for surgery, and I waited. The cardiologist told me exactly what to expect from how long the surgery would take, the potential complications if they found anything else they would need to work on, and the risks. I had to take all of my cares to the Lord. It was nearing lunchtime, and my husband, who showed me kindness, was gentle. I didn’t ask for lunch as I was anxious. He knew just what to do. He brought me a hamburger, French fries, and a large orange and white striped Styrofoam cup of iced sweet tea from Whataburger. It was perfect to calm my nerves.
It was hard to see Mom undergo such a complicated surgery, but after three days in CVICU, she was alert and able to talk to me. Her eyes sparkled, and she smiled when I came to visit. It was a sign of hope and healing moving forward. But something wasn’t right. She wasn’t eating; she wasn’t hungry. She said swallowing was painful. She struggled to swallow for almost two weeks. If Mom were going to get any strength, she would need nutrients. As she was released from CVICU and put into a regular patient room, the nurses would attend to Mom. She was given three meals daily but wouldn’t touch it. It was difficult for me to know that Mom needed to eat, and she didn’t want to.
As with most patients in the hospital, rest was what Mom needed for the healing process, so as best as I could, I would not bother her while she was sleeping. The nurse came to pick up the dinner tray. I asked if she could leave the 9 oz. a clear plastic cup of tea with a sweetener packet on the side. That month, many prayers were sent our way. One of my prayer requests was that Mom would have the strength to swallow again. It was 2:00 a.m., Mom woke up, and she was thirsty. I gave her that little plastic cup of sweetened tea with a straw. She slowly drank, sip, sip, sip. It seemed like it took an eternity for her to finish, but with each sip, it was an answer to prayer. After that day, she could swallow liquids and eat food again.
I think about the many acts of kindness someone has done for me or what I have done for others; none compares to the greatest act of kindness to sharing life with someone else. It is one thing to be told you are invited and another to feel welcomed. Consider how many times Jesus invites us to share time with Him. His table is set before us. He does not dress the table with fancy china and elaborate gilding. He wants us to be His friend. A relationship with your best friend is not only about having a feast. Sometimes it is sharing a morsel, a memory, confession, fears, doubts, repentance, tears, and laughter. Sometimes it is about communicating thoughts, dreams, visions, hopes, and love. The Lord even shares his thoughts, dreams, hopes, and love for us at His table if we just come in, sit, and sup with Him.
Kindness was shown to me through a fine china tea set, Tupperware glass, Styrofoam, and a clear hospital plastic cup. The tea it contained may have been hot, warm, or cold. It may have been plain, sweetened, floral, or flavored with tears. Either way, tea time has been proven to be most beneficial in many aspects of my life.
Now I am the one who invites others to have some tea with me. I rescheduled with my friend, and we are meeting tonight at my house with Mom to enjoy ourselves, our victories, the road to recovery, and healing. It will not be fancy. We will be in a small bedroom with a hospital bed, medical equipment, and no cozy couch to sit on. There will not be delicacies. There will not be an enchanting atmosphere. But I will have the time of my life because I will share kindness through my tea time with those I encounter, one sip at a time.
Point to Ponder: The unexpected blessing can come in a simple act of kindness as you make time for tea.
“Carpe diem! Rejoice while alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have.” Horace