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.

Guiding Principles for Making a Home

They say to be a good blogger, one must have a focus, a platform, a drum to beat. But I have always supposed to be a good writer, one must know one's audience. And if you must know, I write for you and as long as you keep reading while I write about Springs and Winters and marriage and singleness and theology and sadness and joy and home and tithing and homemaking and women in the church, well, I suppose I'll keep writing about all of it. One of the questions so many of you ask (especially those of you who follow me on Instagram), is "Tell me about your home, its decor, your intentions, how-tos, and such." Well, blow me over, I never planned on having any advice about that ever. I just surround myself with what I love and try not to love it too much and paint my walls white. That's mostly it. But as I tried to articulate an answer to a reader the other day about why our American flag is hung backwards, I realized, no, actually there is a lot more to why we do what we do.

All of us are trying to make our little plots of life home, and for some it means copying what we see in an Ikea or Pottery Barn, or doing what our mothers or fathers did, or keeping every scrap of everything that's ever meant anything, or throwing it all away and keeping our belongings to a countable number. I suppose I don't care much for movements (minimalism or whatever Pantone calls the Color of the Year), but I do care about the folks who come into my home and I care about the ones who live in it. And that sets the stage for what you might call decorating and I call living.

I don't have a canned response for all this, but I have a few guiding principles and they've helped me in every home in which I've lived for the past seven years. In my brain it works itself out like a little family tree diagram and so I've sketched it out for you here and I'll unpack it below:

First, love Jesus and People more than things. This is my overarching goal in all that comes into our home. This means I cannot be upset when my favorite drinking glasses get broken or that little ceramic bird gets crushed or a child gets enamored with a little plaything they found in our home and it would bring them (or their parent) joy to have it. It's meant loss more than gain in terms of things, but it's also meant relationships are forged because I'll be sad when that drinking glass gets broken, but that sad won't turn to mad. It's also meant that I try not to have emotional attachment to things. There are some heirlooms in our home, gifts from family or friends that are precious to me for various reasons, but the people and the God who gave me our relationship is more important than the thing. I love everything in our home in the sense that it's a gift for today, but there's no guarantee of it tomorrow.

Right underneath that is a quote from William Morris, "Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." I split this up in a couple of ways.

Under useful, I consider things in two ways. The first is, "Is this useful for hospitality?" The second is, "Is this useful because I use it?"

Under beautiful, I think about it in two ways. The first is, "Is this pleasing to my eye?" Second, "Does this fit both aesthetically and spatially in our home?"

Is this useful for hospitality? This can be as pragmatic as a pair of guest room sheets or a guest room at all. But I think about it more in terms of does it make guests feel welcome and at home in our house? I consider that a useful aspect of decor. I want visitors to feel comfortable as soon as they walk in the door, like this home is theirs. They can put their feet on my coffee table, they can scrounge through our fridge, their kid can break a glass and no one freaks out. I'll get to the atheistic of what is welcoming below, but this is a guiding principle for our home: do visitors feel welcome here? The word on the street is they do, and so we're going to keep doing what we do because it seems to be working. The idea that home is our own palace is a flawed one and not a Christian one, we think. Our homes are our primary places of ministry (whether to our immediate family, roommates, or those who come in), so we want to shape them in a way that says, "Welcome home."

Is this useful because I use it? We really try to keep only what we use. A friend of mine has a rule that whenever a box from Amazon comes into the house, she fills it up with things going out and drops it off at the thrift store. I like that idea. I also like just weighing the need/wants etc. before they come into our home. This is tough especially if you're someone who receives a lot of gifts. What do you do, for instance, with the seventy-fifth Rifle Paper journal you've been gifted when your preference is skinny brown Moleskines and who gives those as gifts? Regifting is our friend. Give away things you do not use. Find a way to be grateful for what you receive and clear your conscience because no human has a use for everything single thing that we stuff in our homes. Set goals for yourself in this: Get rid of ten things a week. Keep seasonal decor to one big rubbermaid bin. Get rid of extra pots and pans stuck in the back of your pantry. Don't buy what you don't actually need.

Is this pleasing to my eye? Art is really important to me. There isn't one piece of furniture or art in our home that doesn't have a specific story to it and its purpose in our home and this is very intentional. I love beauty. I love simple white walls that draw attention to the art on them. I love plants. I love pottery and baskets and wooden bowls. These things are useful in the everyday sense, but they are useful in the sense that they bring me joy and that is useful to me. I still keep these things to a minimum (there's no count in my head, I just think, "Goodness, that cupboard looks cluttered. How can I fix that?"). I lean toward minimalism mostly out of the habit of moving so much, but most of what we own is actually visible to anyone who comes over (we don't have closets cluttered with things stored away or rarely used equipment). And so I want it to be pleasing to my eye when I look at it.

Does this fit both aesthetically and spatially in our home? One of the problems you can run into when so many things are pleasing to your eye is clutter just grows and grows and grows, taking over space and time and your life. We really try to keep only what fits in our home, in the living areas of our home, in hues, tones, and materials that are pleasing in our home. Nate and I both love wooden things, handmade things, and pottery, and so there is a plethora of that around our house. We don't love plastic or aluminum or granite, and so there just isn't going to be a lot of that found in our home. We want what is useful and beautiful to fit both spatially and aesthetically.

So these are our guiding principles for decorating. It's really very simple, although it takes checking our hearts, our hands, and our heads often. It is much less about furniture placement or mantle decor, and much more about the position of our hearts and the clutter in our minds. When it comes to specific pieces and art, there are stories to why we have what we have and why we do what we do with it. Those are important to us and we love sharing them with others when they ask. I guess I want to have a defense for our home, if that makes sense, to not simply gather things and substance just to have them, but to have intentionality behind it all.

I hope this was helpful to those of you who've asked and for the rest of you who are already thinking about these things. It's always helpful for me to think and rethink through these principles. Also, here are a few books I highly recommend if this is stuff you like to think about:

The Hidden Art of Homemaking

You Are What You Love

Kinfolk Table

Kinfolk Home

The Life-giving Home

Missional Motherhood

Dead Things Sometimes Lie

lemon verbena A few days ago I passed the lemon verbena bush in our garden, its leaves crinkled and brown, folded over on themselves and, for all appearances, dead. I picked one leaf and crushed it in my fingers, the strong scent of citrus released, fresh as though I'd picked a lemon in season from the tree that gave it life. A good reminder that things that appear dead can be telling only half the story.

"In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse.

This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on? No—but at least we don’t take God’s Word, water it down, and then take it to the streets to sell it cheap. We stand in Christ’s presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can." II Corinthians 2:14-17 MSG

. . .

One of my favorite aspects of our current neighborhood is how neighborly it is. It's similar to when I lived in New York. There aren't fences separating most yards, unless they're picket fences. How Housing Choices Make Adult Friendships Difficult.

But, as the poet said, good fences make good neighbors.

And, if we do have fences (and we all do, whether literal or figurative), here's a good rubric to use while speaking over them.

And, if you want to take it a step further, make these cheese plates and invite your neighbors over. (A week ago ours came over and we drank port, ate this cake, talked politics, and had a rousing great time. They're our totes favorite.)

When they go home and you have a few minutes to read, though, I recommend reading this four part series on L.M. Montgomery, over on the Rabbit Room. It's been phenomenal all the way through.

Happy weekend friends. I pray you get your heads out of the politics and over the fences and into the nitty gritty things right in front of you. There's beauty and difficulty and faithfulness to be had there too.

Our Divided States

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 8.13.59 AM Endeavoring to be slow to speak means some might say I am too late to speak, but as I emerge from the mosh pits of celebration and solidarity that the District of Columbia has been the past week, all I can think is: Lord, make me slow to speak, even, sometimes, slow to hear. Close my ears to the rhetoric that makes good argument but fails to consider the Creator God. Close my mouth to sides and stances and cheers and chants.

The art of scrolling is one at which I am adept and my fingers were properly exercised this week, one image after another, one short video after another, one article after another, friends, peers, young ones, jubilant in their political position. Even now, days later, when my friends are breathless with pride or heartbroken with fear, I try to hear them, longer, longer, wait for it. But my heart is broken.

It was Sanctity of Life Sunday, carefully scheduled for the Sunday after the inauguration and before the March for Life—a time of maximum emotion, high polarity, and certain bandwagoning—and from the pulpit he spoke of gun control, the death penalty, conception to natural death, poverty, and disability. It was a pro-all-life sermon and these are rare finds these days. I wanted to weep.

One of my first memories is being hoisted onto my father's shoulders, a blue and white sign in my child hands, marching back and forth in the cold outside the local hospital. I remember the way my hot breath made my father's hair wet and then bitterly cold, ice almost, and so I kept doing it: a childish game for a child protesting the death of other children. I knew not what I did.

I wonder, sometimes, if we know not what we do, most of us. All of us. Republicans so intricately concerned with the intricacies of conception, hearts aflutter and personhood, and Democrats so consumed with poverty and quality of life and people. Even the act of writing those words I have grouped all of us into one or the other—even if it isn't the whole truth—because that's what we do. We polarize. We assume. We gotcha.

I mourned the rise of Donald Trump as our president and I mourned the march of women the following day. We know not what we do. I mourn the talking heads and wonder, "Who are these people, really? What saddens them and delights them and what do they fear and why are they yelling?" I mourn the signs and hats and chants and shirts, which I had hoped (really hoped) would say more about equal pay and poverty and violence against all women and immigration, but mostly were about anatomy, birth control, abortion, and death. I wonder what, exactly, any of us are for?

There is no easy way through all of this, but I hope and know there are more of me out there. This election split us, severed us really, and I am grateful for this at least. I have not found a home in Republican politics or Democrat principles since I began searching for one years ago. One seemed to only care about the life of the baby and one only about the life of the mother, and neither, really, about the life of the father at all. If we are humans and not automatons, I hope none of us can find a home in there either.

I think of Peter's letter to the "elect exiles of the dispersion," and I hope I might find myself in there this week, this polarizing, dehumanizing, relegating, shaming week. His, but exiled. His, but not at home. His, but apart from the whole. His, but dispersed. But still his.

I say to Nate of all the years to live in D.C. and have the opportunity to attend so many beautiful expressions of our government, politics, and rights, I am saddened that this is our year. I feel less like a proud American than I ever have. But there, nestled amidst the sadness in my broken heart, there is a quiet and vibrant confidence: I cannot find a home in all of this, any of it, but I have a home in Him and what life in Him stands for: all of life in Him for all of life on earth.

. . .

If you feel like an elect exile this year too, if you feel lonely there, I want to comfort you with words assuring you that you are not alone, but I don't think it will help you. The truth is we are alone in this in some ways. He is with us, and we are with one another, but when you feel that nagging shame of not being able to joy in the new president of our country or march with women wearing "pussy-hats," when you feel in the messy middle of being not either, here is the truth: you are not alone and that uncomfortable place in which you stand is a good one. It will remind you your home is in Heaven with a King who will never be elected out of his office or throne and who cares, more deeply, more intricately, about all the mothers and fathers and babies than we ever could. So keep caring. Keep standing in the messy middle being pro-all-life remembering: Jesus once bled an agonizing, messy death so that all might live.

How to Forgive a Year

  Everyone, it seems, had a hard 2016 and it reminds me of the first months of 2015, how I stood in a small circle talking with my close friend and the man who would be my husband (although I didn't know then). My friend and I had said good riddance to 2014 and had our arms flung wide open to what God might do in 2015 and we said so. But the man who become my husband in only a few months said, "You know, 2014 was a hard year. The first half I just tried to bear it. But the second half was actually good and sweet. The Lord taught me so much about His character and my sin."

I didn't fall in love with him just then, but I think there was a stirring inside of me in that moment that pointed to the goodness ahead. I cannot say for sure, but I think so. There was—and is—a tenderness in him that draws me to him again and again. The tenderness is not to others only, but to God. He has a self-awareness resulting in a God-awareness that I have seen rarely, especially in men.

Being able to forgive a year for it's badness because of God's goodness is something I am working to do right now. The other morning, the man who became my husband and I stood, face to face in the kitchen. His sadness overwhelmed me, as I'm sure my sadness has overwhelmed him this year. I wanted to fix what was wrong and I couldn't. Nothing I could say could nudge the sadness away from him. All I could say was not that God was good in what he did (and didn't do), but that he is good. Today. Right now. In this moment, he is working something deep into our sadness and bringing light to the darkness.

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 9.09.34 AMI have been reading the book of Job this month and I am encouraged by it in a way unlike ever before. I've struggled with Job in the past, either I didn't want my joy tinged with his suffering or I didn't want my suffering spiraling down more. But God, in his goodness, has me reading the whole book this month and every morning I am struck more and more by the deep wells of truth in it. His friends did some things right and said some things wrong. Job did some things right and said some things wrong. It is not a prescriptive book, it is descriptive of Job's life and walk with the Lord, but it can be a comfort to us in its descriptiveness.

One verse in particular keeps coming around again and again in my heart. The first part is familiar, "Though he slay me, I will hope in him," but the second is less so, "yet I will argue my ways to his face." That word "yet" catches me every time. It is the equivalent of our word, "but." As in, "Yes, mom, I'll clean up my room, but first let me tell you this story." Job says, "I trust, but also..." It reminds me of the father of the demoniac in Mark 9, "I believe. [But] help my unbelief." I added the "but" in there, but it's implied: a statement of truth and another statement of truth. It is possible to have those conflicting truths smashed right up against one another, fighting one another for breath.

I believe. Help my unbelief. I hope in you. I will still argue my ways to your face.

If your 2016 was like mine, and like almost everyone I know, you probably need a "yet" in your life today. God was in there, working goodness in a profoundly difficult political season, in a devastatingly violent year, in a year polarizing like I have never seen in my life. God was in there when we miscarried and when we had to move suddenly and when we lost so much money on our house and when a hundred thousand small things pressed themselves against me and you and everyone we know. God was there. But also God is here, and he can handle our unbelief and our ways argued straight to his face. He isn't surprised by the sadness we can't shake and the anger we're surprised by and the fear we go to bed with and the unknowns we wake to. He is the God who is here.

This month I am working to forgive a year, which means I am working for forgive God (not because he did wrong, but because I have perceived his goodness to be badness and been angry at him for it) and to forgive myself and to forgive others and to forgive people I don't even know. I am working to say, "That happened and was hard and there is no guarantee it gets easier (in fact, it probably just gets harder), but though he slays me, my hope is in him. Not the future him. The today him. The God who is."

. . .

Meditating on these is helping me. Maybe it will help you too.