Cultivating a Maker’s Life is a column that explores creative living expressed in a whole life. Generous, creative living is not something that is confined to a studio or workspace. It is conceived in the garden, gestates on hiking trails, nurtured in cinnamon-scented ovens, and matures at family dinner conversations. Come with me while we explore all the stages of making and living.
As curses are being handed out in the beauty of Eden, I find it curious that one of the things cursed is the ground itself. What did it do to deserve such a sentence? Grow the poisonous fruit that tempted Eve? I don’t fully understand, and I’m okay with that. It’s not my job to comprehend the how’s and why’s of a Divine Star Breather. But maybe, just maybe, that curse is like the others – an opportunity to proclaim resurrection, for the ground that is cursed is born again and again in thousands of ways for thousands of years.
In a small room off the back of my house is an industrious corner. It’s a dusty, in-between space – neither an outdoor shed or a proper part of our living spaces – a working room with a concrete floor and lots of shelves and buckets. Here, I make pots.
From the time I was four or five years old, I have been fascinated by making pottery. I love kneading clay, watching it take shape on the wheel, and especially adding handles and details that give each vessel its own individual personality. And there is nothing like opening a kiln full of glazed wares, warm and glowing like an Aladdin’s cave.
There is one part of this life as a potteress that I don’t enjoy, however.
Reclaiming clay is the process of taking all the broken parts – the clay that was trimmed from the bottom of a piece or the mug form that doesn’t quite have the right proportions or the water from my throwing bucket – and turning it back to usable clay. All of those dried out, crusty clay bits are crumbled into a bucket and baptized in sludgy, muddy water until they are melted completely away and have no form left. Then the whole thing is blended in a whirling tornado until it is a silky-smooth milkshake emulsion of clay particles and water. Lastly, it must be dumped unceremoniously onto a plaster table or, in my case, the concrete floor and left to slowly, slowly dry back into clay.
It is unpleasant work. It feels like going backwards, away from beautiful, finished, usable pottery, but there is no way around it. The alternative is throwing away hundreds of pounds of possibilities.
I have to remind myself every time I set out to reclaim the trimmings, the messes, and the muck that starting over is not failure. Just because a piece collapses when I take it off the wheel does not mean I have to collapse into despair. The melting, mixing, smashing, and drying is actually a beautiful way of saying, “This was a disaster. Here lies potential, melted down. But here also lies hope.”
It’s not unlike composting. My garden has struggled in most areas this year. The squash and beans, which normally produce until I wish they would slow down a bit, have yet to offer us a single dinner. The tomatoes are impossibly slow to ripen, only to split and rot once they do turn red. I’ve battled a groundhog all year and cannot for the life of me figure out where he is breaching my fences. He is especially fond of my lettuce.
But my compost pile is flourishing. Every leaf, petal, and vine that has wilted, molded, rotten, and decayed is being turned to dust of the richest variety available. Next year’s garden will literally grow from this year’s failures.
Ironically, I absolutely love compost. Last year, I built a three-bin system that I have christened ‘The Compostery’. I enjoy the physical work of turning the pile, stacking and layering nitrogen-rich, green waste with dry brown carbon. I adore seeing all the earthworms hard at work turning leftovers to the softest, most beautiful soil on the planet. And seeing a compost pile steaming in the cool fall air is a glorious thing.
But there’s only one way to get there – it requires death.
Compost is made from leftovers, from decay. It doesn’t always mean the death of an entire organism. Some of the softest, sweetest soil is made only from last year’s leaves while the tree lives on. This makes me think that there will still be compost long after death is swallowed up in victory. Perhaps we will make compost in heaven.
Whenever I talk with beginning gardeners, I advise them that three years are required before a garden really begins to take shape and produce well. I think it’s because that’s the amount of time to grow a really good compost pile! Year one there is no compost because there was no previous garden. Year two there will be a small amount of finished compost, but probably not enough to adequately feed the soil. But in the third year, all those gorgeous microbes and nutrients should be abounding. The cursed ground is being restored through death.
Every time this act of living, dying, and reviving is performed, it proclaims Christ’s death until He comes. Reclaiming clay and composting last year’s garden are both a part of the table of Christ. This shouldn’t surprise me. All of creation tells the wondrous story of a God who loves enough to bring life out of death, to draw us out of the miry clay, set our feet on the Rock, and call us ‘Beloved’.
Several years ago, I came to myself, much like that younger son in Matthew 13. I was walking down a very independent road that would lead to a very far off country. The Great Gardener of Our Souls came winnowing through my heart with pruners and pitchfork. He cast His eye on several things that were “growing” in my self-sufficient life and asked what they were doing there. Then He suggested He and I pull them, roots and all. It was a painful, horrible process of dying to myself, but the gentleness, faithfulness, patience, peace, and kindness He planted were so much more beautiful!
This year, I once more found myself walking through my heart with Christ, and He patiently asked why I was allowing space for several things that look a lot like poison ivy. Why don’t we just get rid of that? If we put it in the compost pile, it will die and turn into nutrients for something that actually bears fruit. Maybe something needs to be melted down, baptized, and spun into a new vessel.
Just because today or this week or this year didn’t flourish into the beautiful, abundant season of writing, gardening, making, painting, mothering, teaching, baking that I wanted doesn’t make it a failure. I’ve learned how to start over and that it’s okay. When the mess of wrecked schedules, brown pastures, unquiet waters seek to overwhelm my days and nights and soul, it is the Master Artist reshaping me, calling me back to His wounded side, binding me to His cross.
I find the more trips I take around the sun, I actually want no claim on my heart. My heart is prone to wander, desperately wicked (who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9, ESV), fearful, fainting, unfaithful. But there is a God in heaven who claims and reclaims, who makes and remakes, who creates and re-creates the shape of my heart and life until it looks like Himself. Like Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-14, ESV), He sends me to wash in the muddy waters of the Jordan until I am reborn of blood and water.
That, after all, is how the power of the curse is broken.
The featured image, “Reclaiming Clay,” is courtesy of Jordan Durbin and is used with her kind permission for Cultivating.
Second-generation homeschooling mom of five wee snickbuzzards, Jordan Durbin is a maker of humble pottery, fine artist, calligrapher, gardener, pickle maker, baker of all things gluten-inclusive and butter-laden, violinist, vocalist, rabbit raiser, wife of one good man, lover of her blessed Redeemer. She has a Bachelor’s degree in fine art from Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. She is an avid coffee drinker, reader, and published children’s book author and illustrator. She aspires to proclaim the resurrection with every moment of her life.
A Field Guide to Cultivating ~ Essentials to Cultivating a Whole Life, Rooted in Christ, and Flourishing in Fellowship
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