Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Mug

It is one of 300 in my collection. They come from twenty states. They represent six artists, 18 different companies, four colleges, and a variety of thoughts and insights expressed by their creators. But it stood alone – for, of all 300, it was the only handmade one in the collection.

It was also the only imperfect one I owned. But I knew that the first time I saw it.

And if I wanted a cup of coffee, I could not use this one. It would never work.

I had long thought of it as being my favorite mug. My youngest son had made it as part of a 7th grade craft project from rolled bits of clay. His excitement showed for a week before he brought it home – of course he would not tell us what he was so excited about, we would have to wait. Finally, on the last day of school before Mother’s Day, he brought it home and proudly handed it over for our inspection.

The colors were perfect – purples, browns, and white. There was the obligatory handle, of course. It had a bottom with circular sides. If I stood a ways off, it looked almost like any other mug. Oh, it was a bit flatter, but that was offset by its larger than normal diameter. My son glowed as he handed it to my wife and me that Friday afternoon.

But it was imperfect. It would not hold the coffee, the tea, or the hot chocolate that one might want it to hold. The clay bars that had been designed to form the bowl of the cup had separated and formed holes in the side. There was a notch in the top where a small piece of clay had fallen away from the rim. No, this cup, this mug, would never hold coffee or tea or chocolate.

Yet this mug has rarely sat empty. It has held M&Ms, it has held a day’s receipts, and it has held pocket change. Today, it holds quarters. Not just any quarter, but state quarters from around these United States. But its most important contents have not been the M&Ms, the receipts, the pocket change, or the quarters. Its most important contents were the tears that came as I held it in my hand one that afternoon fifteen years ago.

A few years after my son had brought it home from school, I had been asked to bring my favorite mug to a weekend retreat of hospital chaplains. That afternoon, as if I were looking at it for the first time, I saw a broken life. That afternoon, it reflected a life full of holes that could not be easily filled. It was that afternoon that the mug began to fill with tears.

It would be another 24 hours before I could understand that even a mug full of holes and flaws could be useful. It could hold M&Ms, receipts, or pocket change. And though it never has, it could even hold tea bags. That same afternoon, I came to see that even this broken life, this life full of holes, could serve a purpose. It could share love with those who had not experienced it, it could hold the hand of a parent whose child lay dying, and it could pray with a mother who does not know where her son will live tomorrow. I could no more fix this broken mug than the life it reflected that afternoon; but I could use that mug, I could use that life, to serve those who hurt in the world around me.

With apologies to Joyce Rupp, author of The Cup of Our Life,
and J. Andrew, my youngest son.

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