Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Christmas Chalice

Her name is Jenny.  She calls herself the midnight potter, assisting in her husband's business during by day, tending to all life asks of her then late in the evening, on those nights when she has enough energy, wandering into her studio to create pottery.  These times alone -- her hands, her ideas, her clay -- bring her deep joy.

I've never seen her.

It was a wedding gift from my oldest sister and her husband.  I cherished it at first, displaying it in places of prominence on the highest shelves in whatever home we lived -- a decoration,  I don't know when it happened, but over the years it became a common object, stored at arm's-reach level near our telephone.  Home to letter openers, pens, paper clips, nails, coins, the plate beneath it catching the overflow of miscellaneous objects, it served as a receptacle.  It was made to hold bread and wine (okay, grape juice), to remember the body broken, the blood poured -- a clay communion set, the word "Love" etched into the chalice, the words "This is my Body, This is my Blood" on the plate.

I hadn't used it for its intended purpose.

 One day I dumped the contents and scrubbed away the grime lining the chalice.  People were gathering for a Christmas Eve celebration in my home that night.  I desired to share communion with them.  We read scripture then passed the cup and plate, each person dipping the bread into the juice then passing it to the next person while saying, "Remember Christ's body was broken and His blood was shed, for you."  Again at Easter we used the chalice and the plate.  Then I incorporated times of communion into my small group.  Sometimes a friend and I would partake and together remember.

It became precious to me.

In May of 2011 my daughter Karis was married, and she used the chalice and plate in her wedding ceremony.  After the reception, I unpacked boxes of wedding supplies we had brought home and found the plate but no chalice.  Phone calls were made.  The wedding coordinator had not seen it during cleanup, she reported.  Neither had the church found a clay chalice left behind.  I phoned the church months later, asking they please look again, but the chalice could not be located.

The chalice was lost, and I wanted it back!

I tried to tell myself it was only an object and shouldn't matter that much to me, but at random times I found myself Googling "clay chalice," "clay chalice with 'Love' etched," and various combinations of words with the hope that a picture of my cup would appear on the computer screen.  I could find nothing resembling my communion set.  A couple of years passed, and my hope of finding a chalice like the one I had disappeared, until one day my friend Mary invited me to lunch.  The small restaurant 10 miles from my home had a shelf displaying clay coffee mugs which caught my eyes' attention upon my first step inside.  They were made in the style of my set -- shades of brown, part flat, part glossy, with words engraved in them.  With excitement I went to the counter to inquire about the pottery on the shelf.  "These were made by Jenny, a friend of the owner," the cashier said.  "Here.  You can have her business card."

I phoned Jenny and explained how I had lost my chalice and how very similar to the chalice her mugs looked.  She requested I send her a photo of what I was describing.  She emailed me back, telling me she had worked for a small business in the late 1970s that made clay chalices identical to mine and sold them to Christian bookstores.  She had been an apprentice of the owner of the pottery business, Wally, and he had became a mentor to her, even welcoming her to his family's gatherings.  But she had lost track of him over the years and had searched and been unable to locate his whereabouts.  I researched online and found an article about her mentor.  Sadly the article was written upon his death, but it mentioned how to contact his family.  Jenny had thought she would never see them again and was grateful to become re-acquainted with this family she held dear.  We both sensed something very special going on.

I offered to pay her to re-create the clay chalice.  She said she was swamped with work and wasn't sure she could remember the process by which her creation was made but would play with some clay and try.  Several months passed.  I contacted her once during those months but was told she hadn't had much time in the studio and so far had not been successful during her attempts to make the chalice.  When I thought of Jenny late in the night molding pottery, I prayed that as she re-created the pottery piece, God would meet her in new ways, that she would explore the mystery of Christ and be drawn deeper into the love of Jesus poured out for her.

Christmas was nearing, and the closer it became, the stronger my desire became to have the chalice.  In fact it is all I wanted for Christmas, and my husband was willing to buy it for me.  I am not a person who foregoes receiving gifts and asks others to give to charity in place of giving me a gift, but that year I truly wanted no thing, no object (with the exception of my restored-to-me chalice) but instead wanted to donate money to a ministry in which my church participates wherein dresses are sewn for little girls for an organization overseas.  When young girls wear these dresses, which have a tag attached bearing the organization's name, sex traffickers are alerted that the children are accounted for and will steer clear of taking them.

It's all broken, this world.

But I desired to play a part in helping put it back together.  My sibling who "drew my name" that year for a Christmas gift exchange gave to our church's ministry, as did my mom, my husband and our children.  I couldn't have asked for more.  It was all I desired, to be a restoring piece in a place of unspeakable loss and brokenness.  Fabric would be purchased, cut then stitched into clothing that would provide protection for children.  Packages of new underwear were placed into the pockets of each garment.  Thank God for these people who are stepping up to shield precious children from unspeakable harm.

As I focused on the cup poured out to me, my desire to pour out to others grew.

I stepped out of my Sunday School class the last Sunday before Christmas, looked at my phone to find I had received an email from Jenny.  She said the chalice was done and to please not pay her because it was an honor to be able to make it.  She expressed her gratitude at her being able to reconnect with Wally's family and had planned a trip to visit them.  "Just tell the cashier up front," she wrote,  "that I have your piece on the top shelf." I rushed to the restaurant, looked at the shelf to find not one but two more-beautiful-than-I-could-have-imagined chalices, both intended for me.

My chalice was restored.

And two years later, I don't understand the goodness God showed me that Christmas.  I try, and I can't.  But the word settling within me as I recall the story of the chalice is "hope."

Hope that the lost will be found, that the broken will be put back together.  The newness of that brand-new-sent-to-earth baby clearly screams hope, while the darkness of the cross screams despair, all is lost.  But there's a cup and a man who filled it with his blood, a plate with pieces of bread representing his body crushed.  He also is a midnight potter, working as we sleep, putting back together the pieces of us, lost and broken.

His name is Jesus, and I've never seen Him.

And there are shelves of my life, shelves holding cherished objects for display, out of reach; shelves holding items of insignificance; and a shelf holding a cup and a plate, something indescribably precious yet crying out to be used.  "For you.  Eat.  Drink.  Remember," it says, "Until I come again."

And something in me believes He will.

 Diane Mann, 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Unto You and Me

Text messages flew from Texas to California and back that Monday in December.  Dozens of messages full of happy-tear emojis and exclamation points.  And a picture, a picture of my daughter and son-in-law, faces bright with anticipation.  Accompanying the photo, a message from Karis, "I think I have never been happier in my life!"

And a photo of a darling toddler boy in his car seat, cowboy hat and stuffed frog in hand, a blue bin next to him containing his belongings.  He was being driven by his caseworker from his kinship home to Andrew and Karis' apartment building.

"He's two and a half hours away," "an hour away," then finally, "We're going dark, going downstairs to wait."

From a distance we cheered them on then waited while they received this little boy who would become their very own child.  W a i t i n g is difficult and often l o n g.  My daughter Megan joked that we should have brought a deck of playing cards, as we felt like we were in a hospital waiting room not able to see a new baby until the family had its bonding time.  But it was necessary that they shut out the rest of us as their boy arrived.

In this season of Advent (season of Arrival), we remember how Christ arrived to earth, a time for which many were longing and waiting, and we look for his now-arrival: how is Jesus showing Himself to us today?  We wish one another merriness, hope, and love.  We cheer each other on toward Jesus, reminding each other of the richness of the Gift.   But no one can receive the Gift for us.  Jesus is a present and is present for all of us but also for each of us.

A devotion I read described Advent as a time of  "sweet longing."  Those words stay with me as I recall the events of that Monday in December.  I think almost nothing is sweeter than to see hope fulfilled.

I find that I, too, want to shut myself off from other messages, run to the lobby, look out the window and wait for the Gift, given unto me.

Diane Mann
2016



Thursday, September 1, 2016

Telling Time

Campfire Girl and Bluebird Pins - Time Flies
     In first grade I learned to “tell time,” filling in worksheets with clock faces and hands pointing different directions. Telling time came easily to me, learning the small hand on the three means :15, on the four means :20, and so on.
     One could say I practiced math in my home by learning to subtract 15 minutes from any number on the clock. My parents always set the clocks 15 minutes forward – I suppose, to give margin to our schedule. The message it ended up sending me is, it never really is whatever time the clock says it is; I really have more time than is represented by the timepiece.
     “I don't have TIME to go to the bathroom,” I often heard my mom sigh throughout her busy days in my childhood home.
    At a women's retreat where we were going to do a skit including some hymns,  I wondered why, even though I grew up in the same church as many women present, they knew they some completely unfamiliar-to-me hymns. After asking around, I learned it was because the hymns we were performing were songs sung in the beginning of church services. I knew all the songs we sung at night church, and I knew all the songs of invitation and commitment sung at the end of morning services but had never heard the songs sung at the beginning. “Just as I am” and “Have You Any Room for Jesus?” were woven into my being, but “Oh, for a Thousand Tongues” was foreign to me, both the tune and the words.
     I am not exaggerating when I say our family was NEVER on time for morning church. There was a “late room” attached to the west balcony in our sanctuary. A speaker was mounted high on the wall for latecomers to hear the sermon. This was our usual place of worship. However, if we were only, say, ten minutes late or a less-than-embarrassing amount of time, we would sneak in (as though no one would notice a family of eight tiptoeing in) behind the pews in the sanctuary to sit on some folding chairs tucked above and behind the pews. Once, one of the three pastors sitting on the platform jokingly whispered to the pastor next to him, “We can start now. The Carvers are here.”
     Bluebirds fly up to become Campfire girls after third grade. A ceremony was held in the amphitheater at Ganesha Hills Park in our city, Pomona, to commemorate the big event. I was dressed up in my uniform excited to “become a Campfire girl” at my flying-up ceremony. When I and my family arrived, alas, my group had already flown without me. Time flew a little faster than our Volkswagen van traveled across Valley Boulevard then up White Avenue to get us to the park.  
     I wanted to turn back time so I could experience my special moment. My dad was comforting me while I cried.  Then my mom came up with an idea, trying to make things better, and said, “Paul, let's just do a fast little something of our own.” They retrieved my pin from my leader, arranged a fake ceremony for me on the grass behind the amphitheater and flew through the motions, with my siblings lined up and looking on while I walked across a pretend stage to receive my pin from my dad.
     Fast forward ten years. My mom is driving my brother and me to high school. She is going 45 miles an hour in our VW van down Monte Vista Avenue with the car in second gear. “Mom,” you need to shift gears,” my brother pointed out. “I don't have TIME to switch gears,” my mom said. That year my brother and I were late for school every day. We found out at the end of the year our mom thought school started at 7:45, when it started at 7:35.
     For Saturday parades in which I marched for drill team, I was required to have a brand-new pair of Legg's Suntan pantyhose for each performance. Every Saturday we would race to 7-Eleven to pick up a pair of pantyhose on the way to the school. There was no time to plan ahead for this known need, so the purchase of pantyhose was treated as an urgent surprise each week.
     Sometimes my siblings and I waited over an hour to be picked up from choir practice at church. We would use the payphone in the patio to call our mom and got a busy signal.  My sister Susan knew how to call the operator to interrupt a phone call, and she would eventually get through.  After piano lessons, sometimes I would wait for a ride home sitting through the next person's 30-minute lesson then sit on a chair against the wall in Ruth Calkin's dining room watching her back while she typed prayer poems at her table.  So arriving to places on time was challenging, as well as getting picked up from places, due to a seeming lack of time. 
     Two words come to mind when I think of time: “not enough.”
     When I was in my early 30s sewing Flintstone costumes for three of my four children (Ryan wanted to be Hideo Nomo, a baseball pitcher, rather than be Fred or Barney), I was piecing together with frustration Wilma's necklace. It was taking more time than I thought it would, and I had to keep ripping seams from the large felt pearls to get it right. A messy house surrounded me. “I don't have time to sweep the floor,” I said with tears streaming down my face. “I don't have time to vacuum. I don't have time to do the dishes.” 
      Four-year-old Karis, seeking to bring comfort to me in my obviously desperate state, came close to me and said, “But you have time to sew Wilma's necklace.” Her wise words ushered me into the present, to the task at hand, the one thing that was allowed to be on the front burner of my priorities -- sewing Wilma's necklace.
     I sometimes re-live that scene when I find myself thinking of all I am NOT doing. Jesus was not healing people when he was at a wedding turning water into wine. He was not casting out demons when He was walking with His disciples. When he was preaching in the synagogue, he was not multiplying loaves and fish to feed the thousands. Yet He had enough time to do His Father's bidding. He had enough time to be who He was and accomplish what was at hand.  And I have time to sew Wilma's necklace.
     I am learning to settle into the “now” of each moment, and it is a process, my default being to treat time as though there is not enough of it. Time will tell, as I learn to tell time.
     What would I tell time, if I could? “God created you to be a gift to me. I will embrace you as my friend. Forgive me for not being grateful for you or for trusting that you are enough.”
     That's what I would tell time, if I could.


Diane Mann, 2016

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sparkle - A Blessing for Ashley

I almost said nothing, but I'd been thinking about it for a few weeks. "You wear your sparkly headband so well. It looks great on you," I said to a local Starbucks worker. "Every day," she said, "I come to work wearing my apron and my sparkles. Can't leave home without my sparkles." She stepped closer to me as I explained I have this extra sparkly headband at home I've been wanting to give her. The accessory shop, when I was picking out hair jewels for my daughter's wedding, was having a buy two, get a third item free sale, so I picked out this headband that really didn't work on me. "But," I explained, "I think it would look so pretty on you." Her eyes were filled with tears as she listened and expressed her gratitude. I wasn't sure whether it was for noticing her or having the thought to bless her, but clearly she was touched.
The next day I was leaving town and stopped at Starbucks with the sparkly piece in hand. Disappointed to see the headband-wearing barista wasn't there, I inquired of the person working the cash register about when she would be in again. "Tomorrow morning is her last shift," he said. "She is quitting work to take care of her grandmother, who is ill." He explained how dear she is to everyone with whom she works and how missed she will be. I borrowed his pen he uses to write on people's cups and with it wrote on the tag of the headband, "Ashley, keep sparkling every day."
I picture her now donning a different apron, in a sense, a different headpiece, serving her grandmother and brewing blessings and love in a different arena. I love to think of her crowned with the love of God and being the hands and feet of Jesus. And I say a prayer for Ashley as she cares for her grandmother and a prayer of thanks that God gave me courage to follow a tiny desire I had to bless her.
And to think I almost said nothing.
Diane Mann, 2016