The Art of Repairing Broken Things

We were married less than three months when I broke his favorite mug. It was bound to happen. My favorite mug had broken on the move to Denver from Dallas, which was why, I suppose, it was his I carried that day. Coffee from the morning pooled in the bottom, my hands full of books and papers and another cup, which is why, I suppose, I dropped his mug as I opened the door. It lay there in seventy shards and I on my knees trying to find every one of them, crying and apologies and it's okays. I think he went inside frustrated. I think I stayed outside thinking if only I could keep everything together it might never have happened.

The shards moved with us, inside a grocery bag, and stuffed in the back of our pantry all this year. The bag also holds a ceramic bowl my mother gave me which sliced neatly in two with not a single other piece to be found. This afternoon I took them both out, as well as a teal peacock whose head had broken off in the move from Denver to D.C. I gathered them all on our wooden table and laid their remains around them and began the work of piecing broken things back together again.

The Japanese have a word for this, kintsugi, only they use precious metals like gold or silver to bind brokenness back together again. They think of it as an art: the history of a thing is part of a thing. I think it's beautiful to think so, but that was before all of the moves and the breaking and storing and sealing and healing that has been a part the history of our thing. It is romantic to call to memory the history of breaking and healing, but it is not romantic to feel in pieces at the front door or stored away in a plastic bag in the back of the pantry or to even sit alongside your other broken comrades while you are pieced together with strong glue. I wonder if the mug or bowl will be useable again. I know the peacock will be because what does one do with a peacock anyway except look at it?

There have been times this year when I wonder if we have been broken beyond repair. I know the Christian-lite will hurry to allay and calm the picture this brings to mind, but I wonder if the Bible tells a different story. Wasn't it Jacob who walked with a limp all his life—proof of his wrestle with God, but still, a limp? Wasn't it a whole chapter in the letter to the Hebrews that tells of their forefathers and mothers: those who did not see what was promised. It is a temptation, to be sure, to believe wholeness is for tomorrow or next year, but what if wholeness is not until eternity? Or what if healing means beautiful, but not useful in the former way? These are the things I have thought about this year and the things I thought of today, while piecing pottery together again.

What if our intended use is different than the Father's intended use for us? What if he pieces us together again with precious metals, but puts us on a shelf, never to be filled again? There are many rebuttals that come to mind when I think of the possibilities, but none of them are promises. God does not promise to heal the old hearts, but to give us new ones entirely. Why then, are we so bent on bandaids and also trying our best to hide our collective bandages?

I love the idea of kintsugi because it is the story of the thing I love most about any thing. It is beautiful to think of the work and love that went into the making of our table, but I know the history of it, not just ours, but the makers of it, and that story wasn't and isn't always beautiful to others—but still, that enhances the beauty of the table to me. I know the hands that made it and I love them. And I know the conversations that have been had around it and I love those voices. And I know the man who it was first given to and I love that man. It isn't the table I love, it is the story it tells.

The mug and the bowl and the useless peacock are sitting on the table drying. I hope we will fill the cup with coffee tomorrow or the next day and it will hold it so well the coffee pools and overflows. I hope the bowl will hold, at least, small tangerines or applesauce for our dinner soon. I know the peacock will strut in place on our mantle or bookshelf as though it has never left. If you came to our home you might never know you were drinking from a mug I broke three months into our marriage, it will be useful to you even without the story. But I'm not promised any of that, I know, and on this I meditate today.

We are trying to move back to Texas. I wasn't sure whether I was going to say that on here until after we'd moved because what if, like so many of our other plans, it didn't happen? I confess, since the day we made the decision (a decision I've been asking God and my husband for to varying degrees and with various levels of passion and passivity nearly since we left it the night of our wedding), I have been scared it won't happen. Yet another thing we tried for and failed. Yet another broken plan. Broken endeavor. Broken heart. I know God heals, but what if not on earth at all?

A friend told me that if we do come back, to be okay with being different, a different bowl or mug or peacock. Pieced together, but barely, and not with gold or silver or fine metal but with the faith and hope and love of God that has carried us thus far. We may not be beautiful or useable in the former way, but our marriage has a history now and it is threaded in the finest cracks and crevices of our lives, barely seen, but there.

Blessed are the Homesick

It is midwinter, or nearly so, and we got a small dusting of snow last week as if God was saying, "It is winter and I'll prove it to you." The windows have been open the last two days though and the air has that damp, mossy scent of midwinter or, in the colder climate of my home, early spring when all the snow has melted. It has been hard to be content here this year and yesterday the day began folding in on itself before it had really begun. It was still dark outside and I was late for an appointment, my keys locked in the car and my husband nearly to work with his set. He met me last night with profuse apologies for locking them in there and I'd forgiven him before it happened. It wasn't him I was so mad at, it was all of the other things that are out of my control and how helpless I feel to change any of it. I read a checklist of sorts the other day, questions to ask when you feel, as the article termed it, dead inside. I don't feel dead inside, not in the least, but I do feel numb and cold and sad and really, really tired in a way I've never felt before. One of the questions was, "How much new are you facing?" I said to Nate later that night, reading that question felt the same as when I queried on social media about good mattresses to buy because we have struggled to sleep deeply this year, and my mother-in-law quipped, "It could have something to do with the fact that in the space of one year, you've had to learn to sleep in three different time zones." It was a moment of clarity for me, and the empathy I've longed for from someone else. "Oh. Three different time zones. I am tired, and it's not a tired a good night sleep will fix."

This isn't meant to be an excuse, though I know it sounds of one. It's more just a reminder to me that I don't receive the grace God gives in the form of common things like sleep or good coffee or a good cry on the back porch or a long bath. I don't receive them without their sniggling sidekick shame.

Last night after Nate's apologies about the keys and after I told him, again, it was an honest mistake (And by honest, I don't just mean not intentional, I mean, they were locked in there because he had tried to serve me by starting the car early with one set on that one snowy day and locking the front door with the other set.), we had a fight. We don't do shouting matches and stomped feet and slamming doors, but last night was the first time in our marriage I wanted to. I felt so misunderstood and unheard and unable to explain how deeply sad and tired I am about some things—things I'd beg you to not assume, because either they're not that complex and the joke's on me, or they are, and the joke's on you. The base of our fight rested on the premise of every fight known to man since those two feuding brothers in Genesis four: unmet expectations.

It is hard to learn the difference between good hopes and bad ones, godly ones and ungodly ones, righteous longings and selfish ones. Even the most righteous hope can be tinged with self-gain and even the nastiest longing finds its roots in the hope for something good and right. We love, Saint Augustine said, in a disordered way. We either want the right thing in a wrong way or the wrong thing in the right way and we press the longing for God farther and further down, until someone asks what we want, and we can't even answer straight because we're so confused.

Nate asked me last night what would happen if I didn't get what I want (in this case, a good and right God-ordained desire) and I couldn't answer. And when I finally did, I sputtered out words about knowing the theological answer but not being able to shake the unshakeable longing in my heart for what I know is right.

I woke this morning with the words from Psalm 68:6 in my head, "He sets the lonely in families," and then I read this from Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), author of Out of Africa, or, if you prefer—as I do—Babette's Feast and more.

Nobody has seen the trekking birds take their way towards such warmer spheres as do not exist, or rivers break their course through rocks and plains to run into an ocean which is not to be found. For God does not create a longing or a hope without having a fulfilling reality ready for them. But our longing is our pledge, and blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home.

I know there is a home out there, a place where we will eventually settle and be settled, and as much as I long for it to be somewhere on earth, it may not come until the earth is new and the kingdom of God is established on it. This morning, though, I am comforted by Blixen's blessing, "Blessed are the homesick," because there is a promise of God following it: one day, we shall go home.

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Stuck, Settled, and Still Uprooted

field Debate the legitimacy of picking one word for your year at its beginning or end, it's okay. Words are beautiful and vast and also complicated and what you think you might be asking for at the start may turn out to be something altogether different at the end. God is sovereign enough to create many words and also sovereign enough to sum all of creation into one: good.

As for me, at the beginning of 2016, I asked for "settled." Upon reflection on the first day of 2017, though, I felt the year turned out to be more "stuck." And upon further reflection, I'm coming to realize they are not such different words after all.

Years have a way of doing this to us, don't they. Flipping our expectations around and giving us nothing of what we asked and everything of what we needed. I felt stuck all of 2016. Stuck moving to D.C. Stuck at the mercy of my husband's employment. Stuck at home. Stuck in premature commitments we made. Stuck without a church. Stuck without our community. Stuck in the mid-Atlantic region. Stuck in work. Stuck in life. Nothing in our lives seemed to move forward, everything felt like it moved backward or not at all. It was the longest year of my life, and at the end, looking back, all I could see was an untouched field, ignored, unkempt, and overlooked.

As I said last week, God is doing something in that fallow field though, but it doesn't seem to be happening. It doesn't move the field forward. It doesn't use the field. It doesn't catch the eye of bystanders or passersby. The fallow field is settling into itself, dirt into dirt into dirt into dirt. At the end of the fallow year what started as a tilled and sifted soil, has turned hard, solid, packed into itself, stuck and settled.

I asked for settledness in 2016 and, from my perspective, got nothing but more uprootedness, less surety, more change and less certainty. We literally have no idea where we'll be living in a few months. I feel stuck here and stuck for all of life today. But God, in his goodness, makes what seems stuck settled. Not that we are meant to stay here for all of time, or will never leave, or in two months won't be packing up the moving truck for the third time in less than 20 months, just that, what God did in 2016 was settling. He sifted the field of our hearts in ways we never desired and wouldn't have asked for if pressed. He packed truths so deep down in our hearts we could stand on them as firm as stone. He did not plant or water or bother too much with anything else, He just let what seemed stuck settle.

As Nate and I talked though the coming year—with no idea where we'll be living, working, communing—I felt the Lord reminding me that we can make plans, but it's in Him we ultimately hope. And the words, "Hidden Roots" kept coming to mind. Oh no, I fussed, I've had enough with the hiding. I want to flourish! grow! bear fruit! do something! But again and again, as we worked through heart-revealing questions and answers, those words came to mind. Before we see the sprouts, before we see the fruit, before we see the harvest, we know the roots are growing, being nourished, flourishing, unseen, unnoticed, overlooked still. A freshly planted field looks the same as a fallow one to everyone but the farmer.

I have no idea what at the end of 2017 will be revealed to be God's best for our lives, but at the onset, I know he is asking for more of the same: hiding in him alone, our refuge, our strength, our vinedresser, our farmer, our keeper.

If you feel stuck today and have for a while, consider, too, that perhaps God is settling some truths down deep in you. Ask yourself what they might be. What have you learned this year that you could have not learned in a year of much forward motion? What have you learned about God in the stillness of your year? What have you learned about yourself when social engagements, ministry, being in the public eye, might not have given you a chance to learn? What have you learned about your home? Your marriage? Your singleness? Your church? Your habits? All of this "stuckness" is teaching something if we'll look closely enough.

When Hopes and Fears Clash

I hope your Christmas holiday brought many reminders that our hopes and fears are met in Him. This is an easy season to polarize, isn't it? Either all we feel is fear or all we feel is hope. Yet, when we let ourselves be still for a moment, those hopes and fears crash into one another and every optimist becomes a realist and every pessimist becomes one too. If we're children of God, our reality is that all these hopes and dreams and fears and sadnesses converge in one grand truth: that He is enough. Should we never have a home, never have a child, never have the job we want, never be out of debt, never be well all the way through, never go home, never be whole, never be brave, never be quiet, He is enough. This past month I've realized something about life for me now. Since I was nineteen, for seventeen years now, I have been mostly autonomous. I made the choices I thought were best for my life. I dove into schooling, church life, roommate living, vocation, vacation, schedule, and more. I ate when and what I wanted to. I woke when I wanted to. I moved when I wanted to. My existence wasn't selfish—I tried my best to submit myself to pastors, leaders, friends, community—but it was in many ways self-directed. This is a beautiful aspect of singleness and one that is inordinately useful for the growth of the kingdom of God. Paul wasn't wrong when he wrote of the undistractedness of singleness. Godly singleness is a time ripe for so many endeavors and adventures, and I'll never stop being grateful for all those God gave me. Marriage, also like Paul said, is full of distractions and I find the primary one to be our lack of autonomy.

Before marriage it sounds delightful to be united with a partner forevermore, to go to sleep next to and wake beside, to cook dinner for and budget with, to pray with and laugh with, to build traditions alongside and create a home with another person. It sounds delightful and it is. It has been nothing short of a gift. But it is also a thousand little deaths, primarily that my dreams, hopes, plans, desires, and time are in the mutually submitted and mutually sticky position of being inextricably linked to another person sinner man husband, and his to mine. Nate's hopes sometimes clash with my fears and my hopes with his fears. When this happens it would be easy to manipulate my way into getting what I want or for him to exercise dominion over me in a perverted attempt to lead, but a godly marriage this does not make. And so, a thousand little deaths we die.

If your hopes and fears are met with clashing and smashing ideals in every direction, if every time you feel the inkling of hope, it meets with another's fear or maybe your own, if every fear you have is pulled into the vulnerable arena of another's hopes, I am praying for you today. I am praying all of those hopes and fears are met in Him today, not in the gain of what you want or the getting of what another wants. In Christ alone.

Here are some things I've enjoyed this week:

This interview of Brett Lott on Cultivated.

This piece from Jeffrey Overstreet on Watership Down.

This article from Gina Delfonzo on Graham Greene, Glennon Melton, and Jen Hatmaker.

This conversation between John Blase and Winn Collier.

This response from J.D. Vance on the success of Hillbilly Elegy.

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We taught ourselves Pinocle last week. No telling whether we're doing it right. What other two person card games are there?