Celebrating Broken Things

by Marti Williams

Meet Jeremy. He’s a ceramic bank given to me in 1971. He has traveled the world with me on many missionary placements and had a special place on my dresser for 50 years, whether it was in Zimbabwe, the United Arab Emirates, or Australia.  

Four years ago we were living in our most recent home of 17 years – Australia – when our visa was denied. Just like that we had to leave it all. We stopped being “overseas workers” and became “stateside personnel.” Jeremy, like always, came with us. But this time the final move was too much. When I unpacked him and saw that he was shattered – possibly beyond repair – I was devastated.

I couldn’t face his brokenness, so I left him there – packed away in a shoebox – for three years. Maybe my husband would fix him for me. But then life got busy.  I had a new role in the mission – complete with extensive travel. We bought and set up a house. We settled (lightly) into a new neighborhood and church community. I had many responsibilities to fill my time and distract me from finding the opportunity to fix him.  

When life came to a standstill in COVID, I found myself with time and space – lots of it. I had no more excuses. I realized I needed to take responsibility for the job of fixing Jeremy myself, instead of hoping my husband would do it for me.    

Sitting at the newspaper-covered table looking at the scattered pieces of Jeremy, I saw myself in a variety of cracked and broken pieces – all the losses brought about by our return. They are sharp and jagged shards of loss. Loss of family, of leaving behind my daughter, son-in-law and two precious grandsons. Loss of a fruitful ministry. Loss of a sense of accomplishment. Loss of a ministry I felt God had specifically prepared me for. Loss of identity as an “overseas worker.” The frustration of having to call this passport country “home” when it has never really been home to me. The final “nail in the coffin” was the loss of my high school girlfriend to cancer two months after returning. We were supposed to retire together. 

And then the questions came. Why, God? We were so close to Retirement.  Couldn’t we have just stayed there a couple more years and finished well Couldn’t we have enjoyed a sense of completion and closure in that placement? In one denied visa it was gone. All those Losses lay before me, and now they were compounded by a new loss: loss of confidence that God had prepared me for this new role and responsibility in the mission. At this stage in life, do I really need to take on such a daunting role? I feel a bit like Sarah. 

The act of reassembling Jeremy became a pilgrimage of healing. One piece at a time, I could see how God was putting me back together too. 

But looking at Jeremy, the trauma is evident. The scars and cracks show. There are gaps and pieces knocked out which are either lost or too small to glue back. Those “too small” pieces are collected in a bag and stored inside him, as they are still part of his story.  It just seems wrong to throw them away.

The reality is, I have cracks and gaps as well — and pieces I keep inside me that are too small to glue back. They are still part of my story, and occasionally they get jostled by life. Because they are sharp, they cause more pain. But they are still part of me, and God gives me the time and space to process them as well – and bring more healing. 

God still surprises me. The back of Jeremy’s head was a place where the pieces were just too small, and I could not fill in the hole.  Initially I was disappointed. But then I noticed it is the outline of Australia – the place where part of my heart remains with my kids and grandkids and the place of our more recent ministry and memories. I leave the “hole” as it is because it shows the special nature of God’s love for surprises which bless and comfort.

The Japanese have developed the art of Kintsugi – repairing cracked and broken pottery or ceramics with molten gold or silver.  The philosophy is that if an object has been damaged, there is even more beauty to be appreciated and a history which needs to be celebrated, not hidden or discarded.

To celebrate the beauty of both Brokenness and Healing, I painted the cracks on Jeremy with gold paint – to make them more visible, especially when light shines inside him. May it be so with me; may God be more visible in me because of the very cracks and gaps of my brokenness. 

“My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9 NET)

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Marti Williams is a TEAM missionary kid from South Africa. Now she and her husband have served with TEAM for 37 years. She has ministered in various roles of Leadership Development, Church Planting, Bible College Lecturer and Women’s Pastor. She and her husband have served on 3 different continents ministering in Zimbabwe, the UAE and Australia. They are now Stateside on Special Assignment where Marti is serving as the Director of Equity and Diversity for TEAM. Their 3 married daughters currently live in Cambridge, UK, Atlanta, GA and Adelaide, Australia, where their 2 grandsons are being raised as Australians with American roots.

 

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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.

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