Like most weekends, last Sunday I woke up before my family to steal a couple of moments alone to pray. It’s a spiritual practice I try adhering to, but am in no way good at — being zen before God, before coffee, isn’t my instinct if you can believe it — and like most mornings, last Sunday I got distracted. I spent the time I had alone adoring not God, but my environment; specifically, the aesthetic of my mug.
I was admiring my beloved coffee vessel by the pale pink light of morning, watching the steam rise from the freshly-poured brew and appreciating how the rosey shade of my new tumbler and the grey of a nearby tissue box perfectly complimented the faded figures on my favorite ceramic caffeine vehicle. I’m so special about this stupid specific mug because I received it as a gift 7 years ago from MCAD, a private arts college I’d never have had the portfolio to attend, but who sent my brand new production company interns our first three years in business. We ended up paying those interns a small but steady hourly rate when we could barely put food on the table at home, fledgling little company that we were, and MCAD sent me swag every year in return. Most of it was branded — think water bottles and t-shirts — but not this mug. It was just a cute and creative white mug with sketches of little bears and foxes and woodsy scenes of campfires that made me nostalgic for summer camping trips every time I drank from it.
And how deep! I could pour 14 ounces of coffee and a splash of cream into this gigantic mug. It was instantly my favorite, only narrowly edging out my Mean Girls “I’m a cool mom” mug for the top spot on the shelf of way too many freaking mugs.
In a sea of ceramic beverage vessels, I’ve only had eyes for this one. Perhaps you can already see where this is going.
On Sunday as I sat silently, I had the thought: “Take a picture of this lineup. The steam, the mug, that cute tissue box, the pink tumbler”.
But I didn’t snap a picture.
A few hours later, as we were about to sit down for breakfast, I set my coffee in the microwave and walked away, just while it warmed. I’d been gone less than a minute before hearing the crash, and I knew what happened immediately.
Before I saw Christian cleaning up coffee that had spilled everywhere, before I saw Lola’s sheepish face, I just knew: she had tried moving my extra hot mug so she could heat up her waffle. It was an accident that happened in less than a minute, and my mug was the casualty.
Lola felt awful, but I didn’t soothe her right away.
My favorite mug was in pieces.
I was shook and so completely overwhelmed with sadness. The mood in the whole house shifted as I muttered some kind of “it’s okay, I blame myself for walking away” then sulked while holding the broken pieces of ceramic mug in my hands, until one of them gave me a papercut-thin slice across my pinky that gushed blood when I bent my knuckle.
I wondered aloud, how do some people save certain stuff from throughout their whole lives, only to pass down herilooms half a century later, full of stories?
Yes, this is me calling a gift mug AN HEIRLOOM…so maybe this is about something more.
Because that mug is really a memory of a time in my life when a prestigious college had confidence in our brand new company before even we did, believing that Kylee and Christian Creative could capacitate interns and provide a successful internship experience. They gave me people to lead and helped me grow as a leader. I dropped out of college when I became a young mom – so to have most respectable art school in the city send us interns our first year in business was mind boggling. And the free mug was a reminder of all of that.
And I was mad at myself. The shame of having not taken the stupid picture at 7am when the mug was still intact and it was just us together, sitting in the sunroom, basking in that early morning glow – I couldn’t get over having not captured that memory. I seethed over this, and then I heard God cut through my discouraged murmuring — not in the stern Voice Of God tenor that some preachers claim to hear, but in that still small voice God is notoriously using to get my attention, to pull me back to the present and get me to notice what’s happening before my eyes, beyond my feelings.
“It’s a mug,” the God of the universe said to me,”a freaking mug.”
In other words, get over it.
Wow, God, good talk!
So I did. I got over it, and called Lola over to my side to give her a big hug.
“I’m sorry for losing my marbles over a mug,” I told her.
Lola is graceful like a wave, so of course she forgave me – but not before providing her ever-keen perspective:
“I mean, mom…I was going to say…if you’re this upset over a mug, imagine the people who lose everything in a fire. Imagine – losing all your mugs.”
Imagine losing all of the mugs in a fire, earthquake, or flood. Imagine mugs mattering at all, when everything else is broken.
Touché, child. God speaks volumes of wisdom through children. In her words I heard God say,
“Imagine everything being broken in pieces all around you, and then what would you really have?
What are you holding onto that’s more important than me?“
God’s loving kindness towards us gives us confident reassurance that even if everything around us is broken, we are loved with an everlasting love. God meets us in our brokenness and makes all things new.
And it’s enough.
Our hearts were designed to crave this wholeness of peace.
This way of life of trusting God with our lives is priceless; no posession in my possession can compare. But there I was, ready to trade my peace for pieces of a broken mug.
My heart broke to pieces at the thought.
Thank God for not holding it against me!
It reminds me of when I was a kid and my big brother shattered the window of my dad’s garnet red Porsche 924 — yes, Dear Reader, this is me comparing *A FREE MUG* to a luxury car and yes, I’m in therapy where we are talking about my over-sentimentality. But about the Porsche–
I can still hear the sound of the ball making impact, and see the shimmer of the shattered glass on the garage floor, and feel the sinking feeling in my stomach that day we were playing ball in the garage when we shouldn’t have been. I swore my dad would be so mad.
But he wasn’t; it was an accident, and it had happened in under a second. I remember my dad coming home from work and just…picking up the pieces and moving on, without making my middle school-age brother pay for what he had done (not like he could have anyway!).
When I asked him recently how he could have been so calm about something so serious, he said this:
“I’ve always been an under-reactor when someone wrecks something of mine. I figure they already know they f*cked up. My girlfriend in HS wrecked my new pickup. She commented for ever about how I was so cool about it. 🤷♂️“– Matt Leonetti, my dad, unimaginably cool under pressure since 1960
Isn’t that like God? Who, being holy, is even more gracious than my dad on his best day, and doesn’t hold our brokenness or anything we’ve ever done against us? #ThanksGod
Our brokenness, in fact, is no surprise to God: because of the fallen nature of the world we live in, everything is broken. Still we crave wholeness and we look all over to find it: books that promise to switch on our brains and mend our broken hearts, seminars that swear we have to confront the hurt to heal it, courses and coaches that guarantee a better life by following a certain set of steps to get there, effort begetting more effort in an overall effort for ourselves to become whole.
I’m not sure we’ll see it this side of heaven. Because as the sacred text says, our best attempts at wholeness? Are nothing more than filthy rags.
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.“Isaiah 64:6 — The word filthy in Hebrew is iddah, which means “ the bodily fluids from a woman’s menstrual cycle.” Our best efforts are garbage to God!
Only by the finished work of Jesus is it possible for God to accept us, broken as we are, into the wholeness of love. It’s already done, and it can’t be undone. The love of God is like a strong current constantly flowing, never changing, and all we have to do is jump in.
God loves us, and just…picks up the pieces of our broken lives. What a gift.
Some friends of mine struggle with the idea that we are broken, struggle to accept a God who picks up the broken pieces of our lives and brings us full circle into wholeness. Perhaps they prefer bootstraps, or the image of a distant God standing with a scorning expression and arms folded in disappointment, hands tied against our human plight.
But I know the God who endured humanity and reconciled our collective brokenness is the only one there is to trust with the brokenness I feel in my own life.
I’ll break down freely if it means the One who holds all things together picks me back up again.
Last night a friend called after dinner, broken over a relationship fractured due to time and distance. I listened, because for as much help as I can offer the situation, the one thing I typically find most helpful (besides a hug) is crying with my friends. After we stopped crying, I offered this advice:
“God gives a sh*t about you! And about your relationships, all of them, even the tiniest details of your life. God actually cares about you.“
My friend said she needed the reminder; maybe you do, too.
Sometimes it just takes someone sitting with you in the brokenness to remember.
In Luke 7:37, we meet a woman who was pleased to break her most prized possession for the opportunity to sit in her brokenness with Jesus. Those who witnessed her radical devotion rebuked the woman, but Jesus affirmed her actions. She knew being broken at the healer’s feet was worth risking everything.
She knew her broken vessel was beloved by the one who holds all the pieces together.
So what about the mug? Here it is, in all its glory then:
And now, after nearly 8 years-
My sympathetic husband is already tracking down the artist to secure a replacement mug for my sentimental heart, but even if he never finds one – this loss was a lesson in letting go.
I don’t ever want to hold onto anything more tightly than I cling to the One who holds all my pieces together. And if it takes a broken favorite mug for me to see my own brokenness, daily moving me closer to Jesus: so be it.
(But next time, you bet your buns I’m taking the photo!)
feature image: art by Lauren Bina