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The ‘broken beautiful’

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By Nancy Kennedy

After the March 2011 tsunami in Japan that killed nearly 20,000 people, a woman named Sue Plumb Takamoto was out clearing debris in a field in the coastal city of Ishinomaki.

As she picked among the ruins, her eyes kept catching sight of the colorful shards of broken pottery, the only remains of the city’s tea rooms and kitchens.

She and her friends began gathering the shards and broken pieces and washed them. Eventually, Takamoto and her friends launched the Nozomi Project, a ministry of Be One, a network of house churches and missionaries in the Ishinomaki area. The Nozomi Project creates jobs for grandmothers and single moms of the area, most of whom lost loved ones, their livelihoods and/or their homes in the tsunami.

These women take the broken shards from the rice bowls and teacups that the enormous wall of water destroyed and fashion them into jewelry, which they sell through the Nozomi Website, www.nozomiproject.com. Each woman names her line of jewelry, often after a loved one who died in the disaster.

The jewelry doesn’t bring a lost loved one back, but it is bringing hope in the face of incredible grief and sorrow. (“Nozomi” in Japanese means hope.)

Takamoto writes in Christianity Today, “God can take broken pottery and broken women who think that life is over for them…and we are in the midst of seeing God do amazing things.”

That’s always been the song sung throughout history — we are in the midst of seeing God do amazing things. It started in the garden when man first sinned and brought pain and suffering into the world, passing it down throughout the generations.

He took the first step, offering forgiveness and redemption, even before man asked for it.

I just now had an “aha!” moment — the man, Adam, did not ask God for forgiveness first. God offered it first and Adam responded.

Thousands of years later, the apostle John wrote, “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Sometimes, maybe a lot, maybe many that we aren’t even aware of, God is already working out the unbeauty in our lives, taking the broken pieces and shards left over from the chaos and storms that seek to destroy us, washing them and collecting them to fashion into something functional and beautiful.

Sometimes, because God isn’t limited to time and space, maybe he’s already creating beauty from brokenness, maybe even before it’s broken. Like he has always known from before forever even began what will break and how he will redeem it and repurpose it, how he will work everything together ultimately for good for those who love him and are called according to his design and purpose (Romans 8:28).

That doesn’t make our pain any less painful, but it does give us nozomi. It does give us hope.

The other day, I heard someone on the radio say that Christian hope is fundamentally different from mere optimism.

“Christian hope locks its steely eyes on the devastation of the world around it and readily acknowledges that some things may not get better,” he said.

That “things get better” is not our ultimate hope anyway. They may or may not get better, and some, like losing a loved one in a violent storm, will always remain unchanged.

Our hope, then, is that God promises his people that he will take all the broken pieces of our lives and create something new and lovely.

He turns mourning into joy, sorrow into dancing, exchanges ashes for beauty, makes all things new.

In my moments of darkness and doubt, I have always reminded myself that our God is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever imagine, far more than we could ever dream, infinitely beyond that which we could ever dare to hope or pray for.

I have never experienced devastation, but that doesn’t mean I won’t.

On the way to church last week, I heard a song, “The Broken Beautiful.” In it, Ellie Holcomb sings, “There’s healing in your name ... you walked out of the grave, so your love can take broken things and make them beautiful.”

Perhaps that’s the song the women of Ishinomaki sing, the song of hope and redemption, of healing and resurrection, of being broken by tragedy and made beautiful by grace.