We may not be millionaires but the people that we have met along the way…that we’ve been able to encourage and pray with at the counter… it’s great.” says Alex Handley of Pottery by You located in Madison, Alabama. The Handley family (The mother Leah and her two daughters Alex and Lauren) has a heart for both God and others. It has inspired not only me, but so many people they have encountered through running a business built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.
Through a unique story, the Handleys moved to Huntsville from St. Louis after Leah and her husband divorced. They stayed in Huntsville with Leah’s sister until they found a place of their own. Though they didn’t have a lot of physical possessions, there was a Peace (Jesus Christ) in their home that filled those empty spaces where furniture and detail were originally lacking. Leah Handley and her two daughters acquired Pottery by You through a friend she had partnered with. Lauren, a graphic design student, and Alex, who works at Pottery by You full time, have been alongside Leah every step of the way. They run their business by putting people first. Leah, Alex, and Lauren have a heart to love and bless others, because to them it’s less about the business and more about the people.
“Being kind and patient, having a loving spirit towards people… making that atmosphere, the music we play… it opens people up to a place where people can see God,” says Lauren when asked about what influence she wants their pottery shop to have on the community and customers. “I remember one time I had Francesca Battistelli playing, a lady and her daughter were listening to the words and the mom asked ‘Who is that?’” I was able to share with her what the song was about. As she walked out the door, I felt the Lord saying “give her the CD.” I said “Man, what?! I just got it!” [she laughs] She continues, “I realized that I had two of the same one! So I ran down the breezeway and I gave her one… you never know what can open up when you do stuff like that.” God has opened many doors for this family to witness to others through their business.
The Handleys have had many encounters with people both in their store and at offsite events where they sell jewelry and paintings. When you live your life seeking God’s heart, people can see a difference. “I think that sometimes people can pick up if you’re a Christian or not.” says Alex, “People will come in and say, ‘Man, there is something about the presence of your store. It’s so peaceful and calming. What is that?’”
Celebrating the Unique
The ladies want their store to be a place of solace, reflection, and inspiration. They want people to celebrate their unique abilities – their creativity. “When you come in the door, you leave your problems outside… You have to focus on the piece, design, and color…People say ‘I don’t have a creative bone in my body,’” but Alex explains that “the placement of the stamp or the color they choose – that’s creative for them.” Lauren says, “It’s Pottery by you, you can be creative on your own.” The Handleys want people to know that you don’t have to know how to paint, sew, stencil, or write beautiful calligraphy; it’s all about taking the talents God has given you and using it to make a piece of art unlike any that could ever be made by another.
Pottery By You currently has set up shop in the same breezeway as Madison Hopeful Group, a ministry that is reaching out to people who suffer with alcoholism and who are working on the recovery process. Being side-by-side with this outreach has enabled the Handley family to minister to its members simply by opening their doors and inviting them into their lives.
“They will come in and paint and it’s kind of therapy for them. That’s really exciting, that we’re able to help people and to encourage them,” explains Alex. “That’s what I’ll miss,” says Leah, talking of when they potentially move to a different location. “We always invite them over and tell them it’s an ongoing discount.” The Handleys tell a story of John, one of the Madison Hopeful members who they have known for years as he has been struggling through a rough patch. They continue to pour into his life and one day recently he came in and told them how he has given his life to the Lord and wants them to come to his baptism. “Some of the people in there are like family to us,” exclaims Alex.
Alex also tells a story of a girl who was painting a piece but having issues with the fact that her lettering wasn’t perfect. When reassured that if “it was perfect, it wouldn’t be by you,” she began to see that the imperfection is where she could find the charm. “That’s how we are as people; we have imperfections but it can still look beautiful.” The girl wrote “just breathe” and realized it was kind of a spiritual moment of accepting and loving herself – imperfections included.
“You don’t realize what you’re painting can be spiritual. It can just come out in your artwork,” says one of the ladies. Once it is put through the fire, it comes out better than a person realized. That is a perfect metaphor for our lives, truly. We are a blank canvas – we pick up some things along the way and are then put through the fire and tested. “In our lives, the beauty of things don’t always reveal themselves how you think they will or how they should,” says Alex of when they first moved here they would have never imagined that this is where they would be, “but this is phenomenal.”
Conversations in the Breezeway
They have used their space for more than just pottery. Opening up their studio to some friends, they help host nights of worship one Saturday a month. Not only are they opening up their space to people for events but given their proximity to Madison Hopeful, these nights are ways to further expose their members to people who are focused on serving God and loving others. After the last night of worship, some of the attendees went into the breezeway to speak with some Madison Hopeful members to simply have a conversation and be kind and encouraging. Pottery By You has also hosted a Mother’s Day Market and a Shattered canvas painting event.
“Since we’re a community business, we’ve been able to connect people with our church,” says Lauren. They use their influence to encourage others, especially people who are new to the city, to find a church home and get plugged in before they get into the comfortable pattern of sleeping in on Sunday. Lauren tells how nice it is to “come home from school and to have another family here… it’s a blessing.”