more than an ashtray

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The summer before I got married I took a pottery class in an old dairy barn.

It was something I had always wanted to do and felt a season before great change was ideal to press into creativity and art.

Truthfully, I needed something to ground me before such a huge transition.

So I took this class because I love the way coffee and tea feel in a handmade mug and because like you - gardeners, painters, bread makers, writers - I crave to use my hands to make something beautiful.

The class was small. I was the youngest by about twenty years. They were a tight knit group and often wondered how I even found this little dairy barn.

There is technique to wheel throwing but I discovered so much of it is in how you feel. It's a delicate balance and movement, a dance of sort, of keeping your feet firmly planted, elbows by your side, and arms relaxed as your hands and body apply pressure to a piece of clay in hopes of turning it into something durable and lovely.

And there's a whole other dance to pull up the sides so a mug or vase or bowl can actually function.

Often I'd be strong and focused with setting the clay and softening it on the wheel. I'd carefully maneuver my fingers and thumb to make the piece come to life. Until suddenly, I'd push too hard or not enough. One side would collapse and I'd have to start all over again or grab a small knife to cut the top.

My mug would become an ashtray.

It became our running joke.

Let's not make any more ashtrays, yeah? How about we go for something different today. 

In so many ways, this season feels a lot like that piece of clay on a wheel.

Maybe life always will?

We're constantly being molded and shaped and cut to form something durable. I can feel my God applying pressure to one side, an area of weakness, and sometimes it's so tender and fragile that it collapses.

And it feels like we're starting at the very beginning.

A new bud growing on a branch.

Though His work is very different than mine. You see, He doesn't strip things away, start anew and leave me there to dry and crack.

A piece to place on a windowsill, that while beautiful, has no real extra purpose or ability than holding small coins or rings. 

No, I think He's much more creative. I don't think He keeps us there - even when the journey is long and we're stuck in the waiting room.

Slowly, with time, an empty vessel becomes something that carries weight and isn't so afraid to take up space.

He turns what was once broken into something useful and plentiful.

I've met women in my work who wonder if they are too far gone. Women who have seen and experienced too much to believe that redemption is possible. I have friends who feel stuck in negative patterns and are covered in fog; who feel the weight of anxiety and discontent and not enough.

I've been there and am there. I think maybe we always waver in the in-between.

They'll be those days we think the potter is done.

So you're just going to make another ashtray, are you? 

And the human element might think: well, would it really be so bad? I mean, an ashtray can be used for beautiful things too. It's okay if you stop right there and keep me where I'm comfortable.

Please don't push or pull any further.

I don't know about you friend, but I get antsy in that place. Like a child sitting inside at school on a really beautiful, sunny day.

I really want to swim out further. I want to enter the place where I have to cry out for something bigger than just me. Because in that place of discomfort and fear, what I trust is actually happening is the potters finest work.

Something that was once sitting on a windowsill collecting dust is reborn and used for more. 

And in this space, we're able to hear a soft whisper, close enough that it tickles our ear: Don't be so afraid to take up more space dear one. I designed you to be filled up, poured out and deeply loved.

More with less

IMG_2979 There's been a common theme lately, a constant word and phrase hovering above my conversations. Sometimes the word is said loud and clear, other times it's merely a head nod or look; a shared, quiet language that says, "You’re feeing that way too?"

Less.

We want to commit less.

We want to say no more.

We want to make room for God to shake things up and open our eyes to the people we've been planted beside.

We want to lighten our loads and not feel an ounce of guilt for it.

I think that's the tug of war here, the constant fight in our hearts. Can I grant myself permission to say no even when someone or something wants me to say yes?

And I think there is power in listening to that fight within, the roar or grumble beneath. There is power in recognizing our own limits and boundaries and choosing to honor and celebrate them, rather than apologize for it.

We won't be it all dear one. We just can't. We won’t be the best wife or mother or friend or coworker, all the time.

We won’t always have the right words to say. I have to say this one on repeat.

And reminding ourselves of this, gently, is a good thing.

How freeing is it to let go perfection? To put our measuring stick away and trust that someone else's successes means good things could be coming our way too.

It just might not be today.

Today, your more might mean being faithful in the little.

It might be simple and quiet. It might be without any glamour or shine. But it’ll be good; it’ll be full of purpose and meaning.

And it's so hard to wait. It's so hard to unclench our fists and surrender control. I struggle with this one daily because we live in a world of more. We live in a time of excel, achieve, build your platform, work over time, wake up early.

Walk really fast.

And sometimes these things are good. There is a season for early mornings and late nights. There is a season to be challenged and stretched to new limits. It's energizing and empowering to dream big and wide, to constantly be looking for ways to be better, to love more fully, to extend more grace, to open our home.

But I think a really important question to ask is this: am I using "busy" as a crutch?

Do I surrender, bow down, lift up my hands to "busy"?

Put plainly, do I measure my own worth by how full my calendar is? Have I let "busy" become an idol?

If I am being honest dear one, if I really let you in to the deepest, insecure parts of my heart, I’d say yes, I do those things because busy is comfortable.

It's all I've known and seen.

It's more comfortable to fill every square inch with something, anything, rather than sit alone at a coffee shop with a journal and phone turned off.

But busy comes at a cost, right?

When we say yes - always, when we open our door - always, when we commit and volunteer and raise our hand first - always, we fail to give our body, mind, and spirit permission to practice mindfulness and intention.

And I know those words get tossed around a lot. They sound pretty and sweet but what do they even mean?

To me, they mean savoring the cup of coffee in my hands, feeling the warmth from the mug press into my palms, the softness of the rim as I take a slow, steady sip.

It means looking at another person, really looking at them, and honoring the space you are in - a coffee shop, waiting room, or grocery store checkout line and recognizing that this moment is big, it's huge, it isn't small and insignificant.

It means listening with all that I am so you know you’re story, all the bits and pieces matter. That it’s a story worth sharing.

It means doing less to leave room for creativity. The best ideas need space to breath and foster. They need long walks and evenings at home making soup and stories around a campfire.

I don't want to miss what could happen because I'm too busy planning what should.

What about you friend? Are you in a season of busy? How are you finding ways to practice intention and being present?

xoxo