January 15, 2017

No Mold for our Brokenness

My first "real" job was as the administrative assistant at a good sized real estate company in my home town. I had just graduated from high school and was headed off to college that fall, but needed some work for the summer.

I was replacing a soon-to-be-retired older lady who had held the position of office admin for many years. She had her job down to a science and trained me on all the ins and outs of the real estate world. We hit it off pretty well and became friends.

In the process of getting to know each other, I learned she was a ceramics artist. In her possession were hundreds of ceramic molds, used for casting all sorts of various ceramic creatures, vases, and other objects. Having just moved to a new house, she needed help transporting them safely and I volunteered.

I didn't quite know what I was in for. Each heavy, white chalky mold had to be carried individually with utmost care so it didn't get chipped. She explained to me that even the smallest chip in the mold could ruin a future casting. After several hours, we finally finished transporting the molds and she treated me with a trip to Sonic as a way to say thanks.

I'm not sure why this memory has stayed buried for so many years (16 to be exact!), but it came to me tonight at the grocery store of all places. There was a heavy-set man in the deli area, carefully inspecting some overpriced pre-packaged crab cakes. I must have gotten my cart a little too close to him because he moved quickly on, apologizing for blocking my way.

"It's fine," I said. "I'm in no hurry."

"Oh, I know how it works here," he said. "You gotta keep moving along and stay outta people's way."

This made me feel sad and I wish there had been something else I could have said to let him know he really wasn't in my way or any bother at all.

Then, when I got to the checkout line, I noticed the guy ringing up my groceries had a black eye and half his face was bruised and swollen. I immediately tried not to let him think I was looking at it. And even though I really wanted to ask if he was okay, I instead launched into the story of how I was nervous to show my face at that particular store after breaking a huge bottle of wine in the checkout line during my last visit.

He told me it was okay, that it happened just about every day.

As I left the store, my heart felt so heavy for the two guys I had encountered. Without knowing any of their stories, I just felt like maybe each was carrying his own heavy load.

What does this have to do with my memories moving the ceramic molds? My encounters at the grocery store got me thinking about molds. How each mold was created to form just the exact right ceramic casting you wanted to create. And how if even a small chip got in the mold, it would potentially ruin the piece of art.

There's no mold for our brokenness in life. Each little chip we've gotten over the years causes us to look a tiny bit different from each other. And over time, our brokenness changes us in big ways. The only uniform thing about brokenness is that we all have it. From the ones of us who don't know where tonight's meal is coming from to those of us who just polished off a fancy steak dinner.

We try so hard to shine ourselves up and put our best versions forward.

What looks like perfection, right down to the Ralph Lauren 400 thread count sheets, is often falling to pieces around us. Each of us carries our hurts inside. And sometimes those hurts are so big, they take up more than their fair share of space, squeezing and pushing their way out, causing us to transfer them, hurting the ones around us.

You can never know what kind of hurt someone is carrying just by looking. Even with the ones you feel closest to or think you know best.

Seeming like you have it all together is not indicative of reality much of the time. The ones who get dressed up and sit quietly in the church pew, singing "Holy, holy, holy" in full voice are often the same ones who come home and cry in their driveway, yell at their dog, or snap at their husband. Let's just say I would know.

I don't believe God causes our suffering or wants us to hurt. I do believe our brokenness can help us love each other better and understand each other more.

But we have to acknowledge it. To give it a name and let it be.

This can be hard when so many things about our lives seem good. I often get mad at myself for focusing on any sort of problems or challenges because I think "My issues are not nearly as bad as the next person's. I haven't really earned the right to feel this way." 

I think this is dangerous because it keeps us from acknowledging our truest feelings and hurts. Even if there's nothing we can do about them. We just never know when something we experienced can cause us to have a unique perspective and maybe even offer a tiny bit of comfort to someone else going through the same thing.

And then, even in the midst of the brokenness, a little beauty can grow.