If you ever come to our home, you’ll probably be greeted with a cup of tea no matter the season. Admittedly, not by me—I’m still learning the art of tea-making—but by my husband. And don’t expect the instant tea-bag-dunked-in-hot-water kind. No, you will be given slowed-brewed Persian chai—black tea leaves with hints of cinnamon and cardamom, steeped all morning over a low open flame on the stove.
And there might be a chance you’ll reach into the kitchen cabinet for a glass and unknowingly grab the red mug. It’s a small, stout ceramic cup, half-submerged in vermillion red paint, half left as natural clay. We have a green and blue one too. They’re handmade by a Turkish potter, getting his clay from the river running through our town, spinning them on his wheel and firing them in his kiln down the street.
But the red mug? That’s our good luck mug.
It’s called that not because it mystically brings years of good fortune and success to the drinker (at least not that we know of). It’s not because it’s pretty and unique—and it is, made locally and one-of-a-kind. There isn’t one like it. Even its siblings who sit quietly in a row on the store shelf all look slightly different from each other upon closer inspection.
It’s called our good luck mug because it has cracks—actually, a lot of cracks. Actually, the handle has been broken off and glued back together three different times in four different places. There are thick clumps of dried superglue oozing out of the broken areas and little paint chips sprinkled around the rim. ‘Good luck’ in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way because the glued-on handle has, on more than one occasion, slowly and melodramatically separated from the rest of the mug while in use.
Life holds a lot of cracks, doesn’t it?
Our miserable-looking mug, in all its fractures and pitiful glue attempts, brings to mind the stories of grief we all carry, how life has the power to crack us wide open. I have yet to meet someone who isn’t shouldering a rucksack of grief—past or present, big or small, seen or hidden. At the moment, we are all living in the same state of cracks as we experience a global pandemic, and with that brings in worry for high-risk loved ones, disappointment from canceled plans, and the loss of any sense of normalcy.
My husband and I have experienced ongoing grief before; this feeling isn’t new to us. It wasn’t just one defining moment or one break down the middle, but a series of blows and burials of dreams. We haven’t seen much come to fruition, or at least not many prayers answered in ways we had hoped. Any appearance of control we thought we possessed has been jostled out of our hands. Add on to that a pandemic, living in a foreign country, and the upcoming birth of our first child and our stress has been turned up one too many notches.
On a macro-level, we are all enduring the world turning upside down. And with that, there’s been a lot of online content lately written by well-meaning people who are trying to be encouraging during this time of heightened uncertainty. In a benevolent effort to ease the discomfort of quarantine and social distancing, there has been a flood of to-do lists, checklists, advice, and examples of productive routines infiltrating our inboxes. Get up early, exercise every day, bake bread, organize the junk drawer, write letters, zoom in meetings, get creative, be grateful, find a new normal.
But coming from someone who has had prolonged uncertainty as a constant sidekick for the past three years, let me be the first to tell you that you don’t have to do any of that. It’s too much pressure when the world feels a little too shaky. When tomorrow is shadowed in the unknown, sometimes we need to survive before we think about thriving. Often, it is more essential to acknowledge how we feel for a little awhile before we choose all the “shoulds” thrown our way.
This grief—a crack on the handle here, a chip around the rim there—can teach us the importance of holding space. In her book, The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp suggests, “Maybe wholeness is embracing brokenness as part of your life.” And when life throws a curveball, like an outbreak of a novel virus, we hold on to hope, which cannot be held on to without a few cracks. Grief, cracks, wholeness, and hope. They’re the ingredients to a recipe for fertile and holy ground. Welcome it.
If your good luck mug has cracks like mine—perhaps from the strange state of the world or from something else entirely—hold space for it. Don’t take sandpaper to it and buff out the discomfort by way of routines and productivity just yet. Identify the grief you’re feeling. Look for the growth among the cracks. Doing so can make way for wholeness. Joy and grief can be felt simultaneously. Imperfections and beauty can live side-by-side. And know this: the cracks are not fragile despite their appearance. They are being held together tightly by the Potter, the one who created the mug, the one who sees, who resurrects, who makes all things new.
When life feels unresolved and the threads of simply being are left untied, come to our house—you’ll be in like-minded company. Pull up the comfy chair, the one over there in the corner with the throw pillows. We’ll offer you that good, Middle Eastern chai. Choose the ramshackle cup with the crimson red paint and embrace both the defects and beauty. Hold space for grief in this time of uncertainty. Trust that the cracks will lead to light.
And, while I cannot prove this for sure, I’m almost certain everything tastes just a little bit better and a little bit sweeter in that good luck mug.