Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Chicken or Egg?

February 23, 2023

Jordan Durbin

My earliest memories are of three things — my mom’s signature, raspberries, and mud pies.  I would have told you (before pondering this very essay), that I’m not one to put confidence in mystical signs that prophesy over a child’s life.  As I think about it, that’s not actually very true.  As far as evil step-mother-bad-fairies showing up and cursing children with unnatural long hair or vengeful spinning wheels, I don’t believe in those things.  But I do believe in an all-powerful Creator, Sustainer God who has more intention in His breath than we bits of clay will ever grasp.  Therefore, it is both all wonder and no wonder at all that my earliest memories are tied to who I am today.  Of course, He was telling my small part of His great story from day one! 

Even while I played in the mud, He was naming me.

I can still see the wallpaper in my Granny’s bedroom.  I was about four years old, tracing the lines of my mom’s signature on a check she had given my grandma.  The swirls and loops and smooth lines were mesmerizing, and I wanted to write like that!  Early examples from the period show that I could not print terribly well at the time, although my piece “Jumping Horse,” 8” x 10”, crayon on paper, showed promise as an artist.  That signature even at such a tender age nudged me in the direction of calligraphy, and I continue to chase it almost forty years later.

The raspberries were my Granny’s, too.  She grew them in one variety or another all of my formative years, planting a deep love for their acidic sweetness that I have never gotten over!

And the mud pies, well, that happened at Granny’s house, also — technically, her front yard.  She would give my older brother and I all manner of cookware and a pot of water, and we would create culinary delights beyond the wildest imagination in our azalea bed kitchen.  What I remember the most is trying to make mud hold the shape I desired.  And that is essentially what I still do today.

“…even there your hand shall lead me, 

and your right hand shall hold me.”

Psalm 139:10 

I have practiced the arts of calligraphy, drawing, oil painting, mud pie making, raspberry curating, and pottery for decades, but the only name that I adopt from those practices is “gardener.”  It’s a curiously easy title to wear, especially considering how ancient it is.  Gardeners were the very first occupation, and yet we toss the word around, applying it to anyone who puts seed to soil.  I do not call myself by the name of calligrapher or artist or even writer, although I can respectably put pen to paper and brush to canvas.  Those names seem reserved for Dutch Masters that turn oil paint to warm flesh on linen and truly dedicated individuals who weave words into living, breathing worlds.

However, a few years ago, in a moment of complete innocence my daughter gave me a new name.  It was a hot, sweaty day, and she and I were covered in clay — purely playing in my pottery studio.  I don’t remember the whole conversation, but I recall clearly the moment she said, “You’re a potteress.”  

It felt like what I was becoming my whole life. 

This sounds overly dramatic in light of the fact that I have only practiced pottery for about five years (not counting the three years of classes I took in college) and because “potteress” is not actually a word (Microsoft reminds me of this as I type it, underlining it with angry red squiggles).  Nonetheless, the moment she spoke it, I felt like I had put on a fabulous jacket that had been tailored just for me.

I absolutely adore the word “potteress.”  Firstly, because I love the work that I do in clay and glaze.  Secondly, it has an archaic, nearly medieval sound to it, which my ancient history loving soul craves so much!  I love that it is an immediately recognizable and decidedly feminine version of “potter”.  Our world wants to blur the beautiful lines that God made between genders.  “Potteress” helps to re-establish those lines, proclaiming quietly, “I am a woman, made from Adam’s bone, working with the clay that made mankind”.

“Wonderful are your works; 

my soul knows it very well.”

Psalm 139:14

I have spent a lot of time thinking and pondering over the naming of things.  My husband and I are blessed with five beautiful children and so, in the American tradition of a first and middle name per child, that means that I – I mean we, of course — had the honor of choosing ten names to apply to said children.  This was done with no little amount of prayer and creativity and overthinking.  I suppose if there’s an acceptable place for overthinking, it’s in the naming of a living being that will most likely bear that title for their entire time spent living and breathing on this earth.  In all the contemplations over naming a wee babe, I wondered time and again (and continue to do so), when those Old Testament saints named their children, was it prophetic or influential?  Did the name shape the character or only testify to what was already going to be there?  I think the answer is a strong, resounding “yes.”  

Jacob was a heel grabber before he was even fully out of the womb.  That name told of who Jacob was, but did it also ring in his ears and settle into a corner of his heart every time he was called to dinner?  Did he try to grab the Almighty’s heel as they wrestled at Peniel (Gen. 32:32)?  Did, perhaps, God Himself pull Jacob’s hip out of joint by yanking on his heel? I guess what I want to know is how much heel grabbing resulted from being named “heel grabber”?  Which came first – the chicken or the egg?  

In a beautiful twist on the story of Jacob, he is renamed at the moment when he is most terrified and deserving of justice.  He is fleeing from people he has cheated and betrayed toward other people he has cheated and betrayed.  There is nowhere left for him to run, and yet, on the road he is met by aggressive mercy.  That Mercy not only stays with Jacob in his miserable, frightened solitude, but blesses him there and calls him by a new name.  He is a “heel grabber” no more.  The old things had passed away, behold, the new had come.  

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! 

You know when I sit and when I rise up;

You discern my thoughts from afar.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

It is high; I cannot attain it.”

Psalm 139:1, 2, 6

In those glorious words in Revelation, Christ promises us a new name that only He knows.  I think I know a little bit of how that will feel – like my daughter calling me a name that isn’t even a known English word but feels like what I’ve been my entire life.

Featured image is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating.


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