pottery african village 2Good chunks of my afternoon last Saturday were spent with gray flecks of clay compressed beneath my fingernails, and frequently a big, goofy grin on my face.

I was reveling in one of my favorite locales here in Uganda: a small, inexpensive, DIY pottery studio.[1] My husband, in his compassionate, intimate knowledge of me–and frankly, picking up on a struggle for joy–had urged me to get away for the night. I felt like a kid on the first day of summer!

Maybe that’s why I barely noticed the tumbling pile of lumber beside us in the open-air studio with its peeling paint, or why I found the chickens strutting around the table quaint and authentic. The melodic backdrop of the birds complemented the primary school children somewhere practicing their African nyoma drums—and later, belting out a robust version of “Our God is Greater”. How is it that this dusty, rugged, cluttered “studio” struck me at that moment as one of the most beautiful places to work in the world?

I stood in my bare feet, laughing, chatting with my teacher David and the random Africans who wondered in or lounged. Lightly sweating, I wedged, rolled, sliced, scored, smudged, and daubed in a balmy breeze. I was happy.

The lyrics that kept coming to mind were Gungor’s:

You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust

You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us.

The book I absorbed later in the afternoon, Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work
(highly recommended!) reminded me that God’s creation—and presumably His continued creation around us an in us—was work. Yet He “made the world not as a warrior digs a trench but as an artist makes a masterpiece” (p. 34). He saw that His work was deeply good. He celebrated it! He celebrates His crafting of me, too, I think. This was good for me to understand, as I reflect on my cheerful task that afternoon. My creation still, with its cracks and welts and lumps, needed a whole lot of labored smoothing and planing the next day. (Interesting fact: Instead of glazing, African pottery polishes using smooth stones prior to firing. How cool is that?)

I’ve been discouraged lately with my own work—parenting, to be specific. Anyone who’s read my posts knows I have an expansive vision for kids. Hopefully that vision captures a bit of the True Artist’s vision for them.

But the work is s-l-o-w. And I lack grace. And yet somehow still lack the effectiveness: in the past week, I felt like I excelled neither at mercy nor at successful discipline! The masterpiece in my head is still far from what I can craft. (And let’s be honest. My power, even as a parent, is fairly limited. God’s the real Potter of my kids. Not yours truly.)

Yet I found it pointed, if not comical, how many times that afternoon my instructor David quietly corrected my American ambition as my novice hands attempted this artform: “Mpola, mpola!” he would quietly urge before I completely tore a slab or gouged a surface.

Slowly by slowly.

Perhaps that’s only one of the significant differences between the true Potter and myself. I grow impatient and edgy–in light of my circumstances and effort and the fleeting time–for my own holiness and my kids’. It’s true it should carry urgency, that this masterpiece should be a meaningful portion of my life’s labor, of the work of my hands.

But God’s pacing is so rarely mine. In my hurry to craft, I destroy (“folly with her own hands tears it down” [Proverbs 14:1]). Sometimes my clamoring for perfection cannibalizes the beauty and joy that is happily molding kids, that is persevering in careful love. Paul Miller writes, “Nothing is easier to start; nothing is harder to finish than [faithful, persevering] love.”

Because of God’s gentle, meticulous kindness to me, I have the capability to slather on that grace to my kids in all those small and large moments, amidst my high expectations—which can be much better extended as hopes and prayers and works-in-progress than demands. Parenting is a series of so many patient, shaping gestures. Like God, this doesn’t have to be a trench I’m digging. I can have the chickens of life pecking around my feet and revel in the joy that is this good work.

Mpola, mpola.

[1] I’m thrilled about what Vision for Africa is doing on its campus here in Mukono, Uganda—which includes children’s homes, a nursery and primary school, a multi-department vocational school, a coffee shop, a sports field, a community hall, a Hotel Management School, and both a general and dental clinic. This Saturday, friendly villagers and staff milled everywhere and engaged in lively sports on the sprawl of acreage. I find this ministry and its infusion into the community so exciting!

If you like it, please share it! (And consider subscribing up there in the right hand corner.)