True value - Madonna Magazine

True value

Clare Deignan 25 May 2023

Dear Charlotte and Ella,

Before I became a parent, I didn’t know ‘professional toy picker-upper’ was a part of the job description. With Barbies and Paw Patrol figurines constantly underfoot, you would never know that on Charlotte’s first birthday, I irrationally worried we didn’t have enough toys. At the time, we were in the midst of an international move. We just had given away most of your toys, Charlotte, except for a few keepsakes. Now with the two of you girls, I laugh as our living room looks like a toy factory exploded with well-loved toys strewn across the couch and floor. As I pick up your toys, I smile at how your unabashed childhood treatment of your toys reminds me of the request St Thérèse of Lisieux made to the Child Jesus.

I told him not to use me as a valuable toy children are content
to look at but dare not touch, but to use me like a little ball of
no value which he could throw on the ground, push with his
foot, pierce, leave in a corner, or press to his heart if it pleased
him; – St Thérèse of Lisieux OCD, Story of a Soul

After I have seen how some of your toys are scribbled on, forgotten under the couch, or worse, broken, I think St Thérèse is much braver than I am. But in her words, we can hear the call of the Christian life. Jesus does not teach us to put our souls on a shelf, as we would a precious china doll we are afraid to break but to allow God to use us in the way he sees fit, like a well-worn toy.

‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, he saves those whose spirit is crushed’ (Psalm 34:19).

Recently, on a trip to the library, I discovered the book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by beloved children’s author Kate DiCamillo. At first, Edward Tulane, a fine porcelain rabbit, lives as a toy of great value. He belongs to a wealthy little girl Abilene Tulane, who has no problem playing with him. She has lots of precious toys. Rather than a toy on a shelf a child is ‘content to look at but not dare touch’, Edward is given a place on honour at the dinner table and is gently tucked into his bed at night. Abilene adores her rabbit Edward with a furious love, but Edward is incapable of returning her love. After all, he is a porcelain rabbit. However, the reader soon discovers he is capable of thinking quite highly of himself. A twist of fate changes Edward’s comfortable life for years to come. As sometimes happens to even the most prized toys, Edward is eventually lost and begins his journey as a toy of little worth.

In the story, Edward experiences numerous adventures, from sinking to the bottom of the sea to sitting at the table of a grieving fisherman and his wife. He is cruelly thrown in a trash heap and, after months, is salvaged by a hobo and his dog. It is through hardship that Edward is stripped of his self-conceit and pride, finally learning humility.

The journey of Edward Tulane reminds me of the words from Sirach, ‘Accept whatever happens to you; in periods of humiliation, be patient. For in fire gold is tested, and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation’ (Sirach 2: 4-5).

During much of his journey, Edward would prefer not to be one of the chosen. He would have rather kept his comfortable life as a priceless toy of Abilene Tulane. However, when Edward ends up in the arms of a motherless dying girl Sarah Ruth, whose china doll had been shattered, Edward understands the purpose of his journey.

The girl’s brother saves Edward from a precarious situation and carries the toy home to their small shack. During one of Sarah Ruth’s coughing fits, Edward notices a change in himself. Rather than being annoyed at her clinginess, Edward finds he wants to ease the suffering of Sarah Ruth. He no longer thinks of himself but only of her. Finally, Edward understands what it means to be loved and to love.

As Edward has to be stripped of his pride to learn to love, St Thérèse shows us in her metaphor of becoming a useful toy for the Child Jesus that great love for God and complete abandonment of his will begins with humility.

During her life, St Thérèse’s aspiration to remain humble and ‘little’ allowed her to love completely. St Thérèse asked for Jesus to use her as a toy of no value, so she could be helpful to him. Our precious porcelain rabbit, Edward, was of little use sitting at the table of Abilene Tulane, except that Abilene loved him. However, Edward was called to a higher purpose. He was meant to be used and well-loved not just by one privileged child but by the brokenhearted.

I won’t tell you the end of the story of the now-humbled porcelain rabbit Edward Tulane. We will read Kate DiCamillo’s work together, allowing you to discover the story a page at a time. But, we can see that it is only when the soul is humbled that we can truly learn to love and serve God. This is the truth Edward Tulane learned so painfully in his miraculous journey. Edward’s ability to survive the journey to humility may be why it is entitled ‘miraculous’.

I will end my letter with the words of advice from St Thérèse found in her Story of Soul, ‘I see clearly that you are mistaking the road . . . You want to climb the mountain, whereas God wishes you to descend it. He is awaiting you in the fruitful valley of humility’.

Your Mum