I miscarried nine days before our 15th anniversary. There we sat, across the table at a little cafe, drinking coffee together. Our six living children were home with a friend who gave us the day together to celebrate our marriage.
The week before, Randy and I had privately laid the whisper of a body down in the ground in a secret spot in the woods, under a y-shaped tree, marked by a heart-shaped stone. The ground was covered with a green carpet of fan clubmoss, which seemed almost friendly, and the forest was mottled with sunshine like something straight out of a Miyazaki movie.
I was nine days out from what was the greatest tragedy of my blessed life. The thing that actually happened. Small in comparison to what many have been called to suffer in losing children or loved ones, but I could feel the cold, sharp wind of grief blowing right through me.
We went for a hike to Hemlock Falls. It was beautiful. The falls were majestic. The sound of rushing water was like a mother singing a lullaby. I was comforted by the strength and the voice of the waters. It reminded me that I am small.
We got in the car and started driving down the mountain. We listened to the album of songs we recorded four years earlier. They all felt different. All the lyrics I ever sang carried another thread of meaning now. I wept.
We stopped at Mark of the Potter and decided to buy each other a handmade mug for our anniversary. Randy looked around for a long time. He ho-hummed his way through, looking at everything, eventually choosing a handful of mugs that he then narrowed down to four, then three, then two…
I looked at everything in the shop, but one little mug stood out above all the others. It was shining at me, moving towards me, as if I were being asked to choose the Cup of Christ in the final scene of Indiana Jones. I picked it up and knew that I would be drinking my next cup of coffee out of this mug.
We stayed in the shop for about 45 minutes. The little cup was cradled in my hands and felt just exactly right. I waited for Randy to look at everything again and make his decision. Finally he chose and we started making our way to the counter.
On the way there I thought about our bank account and our budget and our lack of planning for something like this perfect cup in either. And I stopped.
“What are we doing?” I asked. “We can’t spend fifty dollars for two cups! We really shouldn’t spend our money on this. And what if the kids break them? I’ll be heartbroken.” We put the mugs down and left the store, leaving the lady behind the counter, I’m sure, with her eyebrows raised into question marks.
On the way home, I made a decision. If I am the kind of person who can go into a room like that and find, with complete assurance, the cup that was meant for me, I need to learn to make pottery.
So I began to pray about it. I prayed that God would help me to find a wheel and a kiln. I started doing research, looking online, pricing, reading about pottery–something I never cared about in all of my years in art school when I had 24-7 access to all of this extremely expensive equipment.
I prayed that if God wanted me to have a wheel and kiln, he would help me to find them.
As days and weeks went by, I continued to grieve fiercely for the little life we lost. I would find myself huddled in a dark room, sobbing my heart out in the middle of a perfectly beautiful afternoon. It would come and go, hitting me in waves, but the ache was real. It was sharp and deep, like a threaded needle. This quiet sorrow was stitched through the fabric of my days.
Somehow I intuitively connected the desire to make things out of clay with the experience of losing a child to miscarriage. Though I couldn’t articulate it at the time, I felt the nuance of meaning between laying that little body in the ground and raising a vessel up on the wheel. Both grief and desire were bound by this longing to honor and create beauty from the dust of the earth.
This was late spring of 2018.
I hoped to have enough money the following March (tax time) to buy a modest wheel and kiln. We were planning a house project as well, so whatever was left over would be my budget.
In August, I learned I was pregnant again. I was happy and at peace in a new way with this pregnancy. It felt different and even more sacred, knowing that the little life growing there would not exist had we not suffered the painful loss. The life in my womb was a comfort to me and to our family.
Months went by. First trimester. Second trimester. Around March, we changed our house project plans. Instead of knocking out our kitchen wall and making a bigger eating space, we rearranged our kitchen and found another way to fit our growing family within it. And then we decided to do something that I never thought we would be able to afford: We began the process of finishing our basement.
I look back now and see the incredible mercy of God in every detail of my last trimester. We teach music lessons from our home, and we began asking if there was anyone who wanted to barter for lessons in exchange for helping us build our basement. We now teach the daughter of a man who pours concrete, the son of a man who builds houses, and the son of a man who does electrical work. With an incredibly small budget, we began to add 900 square feet of usable space to our home. (This miracle deserves its own post, which I hope to write soon.)
I had a vision in my mind of sitting on a couch in the basement, holding my newborn, and drinking out of a cup that I made. So as the work went on with our house project, and my belly continued to grow, I continued my search for a wheel and a kiln.
In mid-April, I found what I was looking for. Randy drove three and a half hours (one-way) through the worst storms of the year to pick up my very own pottery wheel and little kiln for $250, which is about $1200 less than my best estimate as to how much it was going to cost me to buy both items used in good condition.
We had just poured the concrete floor in our basement, so with the help of some strong neighbor-brothers, Randy unloaded my motorized kick wheel right into the studio that I never realized I was going to have when I started this dream the previous spring. (I now realize I would have been crazy to think of trying to do this anywhere inside my house–it is way too messy and takes up way too much space!)
As my belly continued to grow, so did my desire to learn to throw pottery. I checked out stacks of books from the library, watched youtube tutorials, made notes, asked questions of artist friends–all in faith that one day I would be able to make my perfect cup. One that would make me as happy as the one I left at Mark of the Potter on my 15th Anniversary. Happier, even. Because it would not only mark the date of our anniversary, but it would mark a season of loss and healing in my life. I reached out to a friend who is a potter, and she offered to teach me lessons in exchange for Randy teaching her boys music lessons. Another answer to prayer.
Rune was born on May 21, 2019. Three days before our 16th anniversary. His birth was miraculous in a way that is difficult to describe in a sentence or two. (If you want to hear the story, you can read it in my post: Singing Out a Baby, The birth story of Rune O’Carolan Chester.) I felt the lovingkindness of God in his birth, and that He cares about the little details of my life. I came home from the hospital to the final steps of the basement project being wrapped up–literally. The staircase that connected the main part of our house to our new living space was being built as I was in labor, and in the next two weeks, all of the essential details were completed. I sat in my very own basement, nursing my newborn, overlooking a vast space for play and creativity, with my pottery wheel in sight. My teacher friend came to visit me for my first lesson the week after Rune was born.
And the idea that started as marking a season of grief was changed into something much sweeter. At the close of a year of great sadness, God gave me a beautiful, sweet and precious baby boy. He gave me the space that my heart has been longing for in our home. He gave me a pottery wheel and a kiln and a new set of metaphors for understanding my life through the process of working dust into clay and clay into a vessel that can be used.
I am still learning how to make my perfect cup. And will be for some time. I have yet to fire my kiln. But I feel the love of Christ in the pace and the process, and I feel his presence grounding and centering me as I am learning to be workable clay through every season of sorrow and joy. He offers beauty for ashes and peace for despair. As He leads us through seasons of mourning, He is also able to deepen our joy and our gratitude for the gift of life that is set before us. God is a Creator whose loving attention to detail is both humbling and awe-inspiring. I am trusting Him. I am the vessel. He is the Maker who has marked my life.