rituals: when grace comes in the form of a red coffee mug (ashley hales).

Guest post Tuesday! Meet Ashley, one of my Voxer friends and Redbud friends and writer-in-general friends. I love that she realized a set of ordinary ol’ red coffee mugs weren’t actually so ordinary – and the ritual that began with them ran so much deeper. Because it’s true: the not-so-ordinary rituals truly DO make the story that much deeper. Enjoy! 

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I decided several years back that I really wanted some fancy red coffee mugs from Williams-Sonoma – something special to hold my morning coffee. After saving up, I ordered a pair of red mugs. They seemed so very cheerful.

When my friend Melissa and I decided to pray together every Thursday, I brought out the red mugs. Sometimes just having something beautiful and warm to hold in my hands for our truth-telling would be enough. Today, I can’t help but think of them a bit like sacraments. They are outward signs of something deep and mysterious, something that was the very means of grace. And now (having moved away) when I pull them out of my cabinets, I feel the ache of absence.

Of course there was everything that came before the mugs: there was our laughter over our frazzled nerves, our commiseration together as we both could never seem to get our houses in order, and a our shared desire for talk deeper than diapering and sleep schedules. Plus, we were pastors’ wives. We figured maybe we should give this prayer thing an actual go – see if it really was as life giving as the Bible said.

Every Thursday morning up until our recent move, we committed to the slow and steady grace of prayer. Our older children were in school and Melissa would come to my messy house, her smaller kids wearing their wellies on the wrong feet and my own kids usually half-dressed. I’d sweep away the piles and put on the kettle while one of us started a video for the toddlers in the basement. We’d placate them with snacks in time for the electric kettle to ding.

There was peppermint tea in the spring, chai in the autumn, black milky tea in winter. Sometimes I’d bring out my fancy blue and white Burleigh plates with something sweet.

We’d sigh, knowing that in all the snatches of what would be interrupted time that morning, there was someone who would see us. It was a terrific freedom to confess our anger, our bitterness and resentment and most of all, to take turns pointing the other to a glorious hope that had nothing to do with our performance or the cleanliness of our homes. We’d remind each other again and again: You are loved. You are valuable. You are known. And yet, I see your brokenness. That’s real too. But friend, there is healing. There is the hope of transformation, of all things being made new.

More often than not, we’d only get through half of our tea as we distracted babies with toys, or nursed newborns or attended to the toddlers asking for more Veggie Tales. It didn’t feel like much was happening at all most times. I wondered where prayer was when it felt tacked-on or squashed in-between the demands of little children. How could God hear us and be at work when we were so very distracted?

But there’s something that goes deeper in those layers of repetitive action. I’m just so near-sighted that it’s only now, having some distance, that I’m able to see the gift of those red coffee mugs.

It was more than simply a warm beverage and time with a friend. It was more than letting go of the mom guilt about sequestering our children in the basement with a Netflix babysitter. It was presence. It was hope that God was real and that there was someone else who was leaning into all the doubts, all the hard, all the stresses of this life alongside of me. We walked through pregnancies and growing family dynamics, marital fights, her dad’s early onset Alzheimer’s, and our inclination to lose our tempers. There was no need to hide.

Those red coffee mugs were means of grace. It was grace as one of us would hand the newest baby off to use the bathroom, or to bounce as the other prayed. And like all means of grace it was so ordinary to almost go unnoticed. Perhaps that’s where the beauty is, in its very mundaneness. Perhaps the ordinary is full of wonder and we’re just numb to it, too busy to notice how grace steals in through something as ordinary as shared tea in a red mug. Perhaps there is wonder and beauty and something glorious happening through Thursday morning tea and prayer time. Perhaps this is what life is about: the layering of ordinary event upon ordinary event; but through them all grace hovers just below the surface and knits them together right into glory itself.

AshleyHalespicAshley describes herself as a recovering good girl who’s been caught by the wide mercy of Jesus. She clings to stories, hot cups of coffee, and “me, too” conversations with girlfriends. Ashley’s a mama to 4 littles, wife to her church planter husband, and holds a Ph.D. in English. She writes at Circling the Story, The Mudroom, and loves to make friends on TwitterIt’s Cara again: Have you run to the kitchen to make yourself a cup of tea yet? Otherwise, how have ordinary ol’ coffee mugs been moments of stolen grace? 

9 thoughts on “rituals: when grace comes in the form of a red coffee mug (ashley hales).

  1. Red mugs or paper cups, having a weekly prayer appointment would certainly be wonderful grace to me. Praying for eyes to see the grace I do have that I seem to be blind to.

    1. Exactly — the container doesn’t matter so much. But I have found that a bit of beauty helps me see the ordinary as glory-filled. Recently I’ve just been mourning losses but am also praying for eyes to see. Thanks for reading and commenting, Jennifer.

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