On the bookshelf in the corner of my bedroom sits a ceramic toad. Yes, a toad. It is nothing great to look at. In fact, it’s dull, dusty, and covered in cracks and globs of yellowed glue. It didn’t start out that way, though. It once was shiny and pristine.
If you asked me when or where I got that toad, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Nor would I be able to tell you why I seemed to like it so much, other than that I was a quirky kid. What I do remember clearly, though, is the day it got broken.
Picking Up the Pieces
For some reason, on that day I must have put the toad in a bag-—or maybe it was a purse—and left it lying on the floor. When my mom told my sisters and me to clean up, my sister Karen grabbed the bag and threw it down the basement stairs in an attempt to clean up as quickly as possible. When it landed on the tile floor, there was a crash and the sound of something breaking. I immediately remembered putting my toad in that bag.
We ran down the steps and opened it up. I saw the broken pieces inside and started to cry. Karen quickly apologized, saying she didn’t know there was anything in the bag. My oldest sister, Beth, ran downstairs and gathered the pieces. She carried them upstairs to the table, where she promised me that she would reassemble my toad. She laid out the pieces and began carefully and painstakingly gluing the ceramic pieces back together. The result is the piece that has been sitting on a shelf in my bedroom ever since.
The fact that I can recall that story over 40 years later says a lot about its impact, especially since I often can’t even remember why I walked into a room. I can remember that story, though, because I have learned so much from it.
Broken, but Beautiful
Whenever I look at that toad, I’m reminded of the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi, which highlights or emphasizes imperfections by fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. In highlighting the cracks or broken pieces, they suddenly become something to celebrate or focus on, rather than flaws.
I also remember that we, too, are all flawed and broken in so many ways—just like my ceramic piece. Each of us bears cracks and missing pieces from difficult life experiences—mistakes, failures, broken relationships, deaths. The physical marks serve as reminders for us to turn to God for healing. That is the message I see in the yellowed cracks of my ceramic piece.
I am also, however, reminded of the power of stepping up and helping someone when he or she is broken. The memory of my sister gluing the toad back together taught me a powerful lesson about reaching out and helping others—even when the situation may seem unimportant or small.
I think it’s those underlying messages of the story that have made it stick with me. And so that toad has traveled with me to four different houses, always finding a place where I can be reminded that in our brokenness, there is still beauty.