Try :: More Than a Summer Soldier

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

American philosopher, patriot and founding father Thomas Paine penned those words nearly 140 years ago. Some days, I feel as if he wrote them for me, not for the soldiers fighting to create a new, free nation.

Because some days are easier than others. They just are. The days the sun is shining and it’s summertime in my heart, it’s easy to stand on the front lines, strong in the fight.

Then there are those days — often drawing out into weeks — that seem to present one challenge after another. You overcome the first grief or battle, and another arrives on its heels. One storm after another.

You not only try. You conquer.

When our souls are “tried” we know that it’s not enough to just try, to simply cope. Victory comes in finding the good and the truth in the battle. What good can come of this? With God as our Commander, much good can come and usually does.

Our challenge is to have “ears that hear and eyes that see — the Lord has made them both.” Proverbs 20:12

In choosing to stand strong on the battle front — in choosing to keep trying in trying times — we declare that God is the victor.

And we are more than summer soldiers.

Five-Minute-Friday-4Linking up today at Five Minute Friday to write for 5 minutes on the prompt “Try”

What’s Brewing? In Search of the Perfect Blend

What's Brewing- Blog badge. (2)On a recent trip to Chicago to visit my son and daughter-in-law, I visited two coffee shops. In the same day.

Whenever I’m traveling, I love checking out coffee shops, soaking up the unique ambiance, people-watching and, of course, snagging a good cup of coffee.

A coffee shop that stands out in recent memory is Headquarters, a tiny sliver of space on Charlotte Pike in Nashville, TN. I met a sweet young friend there last summer for a cup of stout coffee loaded with cream and sugar, and a nice, long chat. I like that the proprietor says she is “committed to carrying only local vendors, because we believe that doing so creates jobs, revenue and our neighbors’ success.”

That coffee shop visit is memorable as much for the company as for the coffee.

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My friend, Robin, in an outdoor nook at Headquarters in Nashville, TN.

My recent Chicago coffee stops were about as different from one another as they could be. The first was discovered on an early morning walk. A quaint corner shop on Lincoln Avenue, Red Eyes Coffee is run by a very cute Asian couple. The shop appears to be a popular hang-out for writers and students. The owner was occupied in the back when I stepped in, but a call-out from one of his customers brought him scurrying to the front, where he poured me a delicious cup of dark, rich Guatemalan brew and wished me a good day. If I’d had the time and my laptop, I believe I could have spent a couple of pleasantly productive hours in a quiet corner. Instead, I pulled a chair up to an iron table in the outdoor seating area and watched other early morning walkers.

My second stop was a quick “fuel-up” before my drive home. Just down Lincoln from Red Eyes, this chain with a well-known name was chosen for convenience — which is about the only positive take-away from that visit. When I asked the kid behind the counter to make a change in my order, he expressed dissatisfaction, then made the change without adjusting my price. The lady behind me in line leveled an impatient gaze in my direction while I waited for the frozen drink the “barista” was quickly blending up behind the counter. It was crowded and noisy. Even if I hadn’t been in a hurry, I wouldn’t have been inclined to stay.

Working at my favorite local coffee shop, I’ve come to appreciate how important it is to offer not just great coffee, but also an atmosphere that’s conducive to conversation, contemplation or creativity. Throw in convenience, and you get the perfect blend.

 

 

Ten :: Putting Gratitude at the Top of my List

I read that book some years back. Just devoured it, actually. “One Thousand Gifts” — counting all the ways the Lord blesses and actually THANKING HIM for the blessings.

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So I began my list: ten things I am grateful for every day. My goal was a thousand, and beyond.

Where is that list today? Haven’t a clue. When did my striving to stir up thankfulness — “eucharisteo” — fall by the wayside?

Was it when our children became adults, left home and the house became silent?

Thank you, Jesus, that they are healthy and safe.

When our business grew and my work load increased and my husband worked late?

Thank you, Jesus, for financial security and success.

When friends presented needs and prayer became a necessity?

Thank you, Jesus, for cherished friendships.

When God pointed me toward work outside our home?

Thank you, Jesus, for new friends and coffee.

When the absent sons could no longer tend our lawn and it became my job?

Thank you, Jesus, for the beauty of our hillside home.

When my parents called and asked “please drive us here”?

Thank you, Jesus, that my Mom and Dad are still with me.

When the need to update our home stirred me to buy paint and brushes?

Thank you, Jesus, for the health and strength to do simple tasks.

When the writing projects came and I began feeling overwhelmed?

Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of words.

When good books and Bible studies consumed my time?

Thank you, Jesus, for Your Word and words that inspire.

When long walks became prayer walks.

Thank you, Jesus, for never leaving my side.

Ten, and more. The “gifts” just keep piling up.

Thank you, Jesus.

Linking up today at Five Minute Friday to write for just 5 minutes on the word “ten”.

 

 

 

 

What’s Brewing? Knowing Which Hat To Wear

What's Brewing- Blog badge.The internet has been down at our house following a patch of stormy weather. In some ways, the outage has been a blessing, but being disconnected has also been inconvenient. Hence, this late post on “What’s Brewing” is brought to you from my favorite booth at Great Lakes Chocolate and Coffee (where the Pandora station is down but the Wi-Fi is free.)

The world is made up of interesting people, and lots of them show up at my coffee shop — on both sides of the counter.

My co-workers are mostly 20-something females. I have many opportunities to relate to young adults in a number of venues (my kids’ friends, for one), so I’m pretty comfortable around them. But I’ve had to remember to leave my “mom hat” at home when I work a shift at Great Lakes Chocolate and Coffee. We’re just co-workers and they aren’t here for parental advice.

However, watching them interact with one another and with the customers, I can’t help but begin to care about the issues they bring with them to their work shift.

There’s the stressed-out single Mom who works this and another job to make ends meet. And the college students who are juggling summer classes while working nearly full-time, wondering just where that expensive college degree will take them. And the girl who hasn’t yet figured out what she wants, but knows she needs a job to get there.

For the most part, they are professional and responsible, and they don’t let “life” infringe on work. They really expect and deserve to be treated like the self-sufficient, competent young women they are.

So I when I walk through the front door, I tuck the “mom hat” into my purse.

But that doesn’t shut down my “mom heart”.

As I prepare today to spend the next several hours working alongside one of these young ones, tumbling around in my head are words that I wish I had heard at their age, wisdom that jumped off the page to me as I spent some early morning moments on my front porch today — just me, God and the birds. And these inspired words:

“If we have found peace, it is only because we have found the end of self.” Steven James

From my vantage point — 60+ years down the road — these words hold a lot of truth. At 20-something, I doubt I would have listened or cared.

But if I shared them with my young co-workers, I would add this:

All that is crazy and seemingly out of control in your world today…

All that seems so important and life-changing…

Everything that appears to hold the key to your future happiness…

All those good and necessary things don’t stand up to the peace that comes from knowing “self” can’t possibly have all the answers. Even the most competent and wise among us will someday figure out that peace — contentment, satisfaction, success — only comes when we demand less of ourselves and pray more.

That’s what my “mom heart” would have them know.

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Free :: The Simple Joy of a Flop in the Grass

Finishing a brisk 20-minute walk to the corner and back, I stepped into the luscious green lawn that needed mowing. On this beautiful summer morning, the grass beckoned. I flopped onto my back and lay gazing into the clear blue sky. Weeks of off-and-on rain made this clear, dry day even more welcomed.

I took a deep breath and images I had seen on my computer earlier in the morning flashed through my mind: dark-haired, brown-eyed children playing in a splash of green, piling rocks, planting seeds. The children were enjoying the freedom of living in a rural compound in the hills of Honduras. Orphaned children I have visited and ministered to in the past when they had been confined to a gated block building on a corner in a very dangerous city, could now safely play in the grass.

Free

Free to run and climb and flop in the grass. Free to grab a soccer ball, stand in the sunshine, play games under shade trees, plant a seed and watch it grow. The long-awaited move from the city to a new orphanage home on a hillside at the edge of Monte Redondo means these orphaned children are finally free.

My own children grew up on a farm with acres of pasture and woodlands to explore, safely and in freedom. My heart swells to know that today, these children in a country almost 2,000 miles away can experience that same feeling of being FREE.

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Linking up today at Five Minute Friday to write for five minutes on the word “free”. 

What’s Brewing? The Coffee in Your Cup Helps Bring Children ‘Home’

What's Brewing- Blog badge. (2)She drew people to her, young and old alike. She just lit up the room. Was it her smile? Her naturally friendly manner? The curly red hair and sparkling giggle certainly caught your attention.

But beyond all that, what illuminated the face of my friend Chris was love — the love of Jesus that she spread all over those in her path.

Before Chris died far too young and with so much more love to give, she “adopted” a passel of street children in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Chris made many trips from LaGrange to Honduras to bring love and hope to boys and girls who had found a home through the efforts of Forgotten Children Ministries. An orphanage established by her home church, LaGrange First Church of God, welcomes missionaries to this dangerous Central American city every year and Chris made the trip often. Her husband and children understood her passion for the ministry and willingly shared her with the street children, traveling to Honduras with her when they could.

Brad shares a message with those waiting for rice and beans.

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A mother and her baby wait to receive rice and beans.

The year after brain cancer took her life, Chris’ family joined the mission team’s annual trip to Honduras. In her honor, they shared gifts Chris had collected for them, including a large bag of marbles for the little boys she loved so much.

Joining the missionaries that year was Paul Smith, a cousin to Chris’ husband and co-owner of Great Lakes Chocolate and Coffee. Paul saw the life-giving work of FCM firsthand and understood the passion Chris held for the ministry. Shortly after this trip, Paul and his brother, Jared, found a way to contribute to the work that meant so much to Chris.

photo (15)My favorite coffee roasted by Great Lakes is Chris’ Blend. It’s a rich mixture of African and Honduran coffee that I brew up at home every day and at our church on Sunday mornings. For every bag of Chris’ Blend that’s purchased from Great Lakes, $1 is sent to Forgotten Children Ministries in honor of Chris.

The next time you stop by Great Lakes and see Chris’ Blend on the menu for the day, order a cup. Better yet, take home a bag. As you sip, appreciate that because of my friend Chris and the guys at Great Lakes, the coffee in your cup helps bring forgotten children “home”.

For more about Forgotten Children Ministries, read my blog series about the ministry here.

 

When Standing in the Stream Is an Act of Faith

A spring-fed creek cuts a quiet path through our valley, rambling over stones and through clumps of watercress and swamp lilies before ducking under the road in front of our home to join a larger creek at the edge of the field. The water that flows from our spring and creek eventually travels into a larger river and dumps into a nearby lake.

Growing up, our sons spent hours playing alongside and inside that creek. Boats made of leaves and sticks were launched from the little wooden bridge. Water scooped up in a discarded glass jar was examined for bugs and tadpoles.

I never cross that creek or stand on its banks without thinking about my children. Those memories are a gift.

The faith that carried me through days and years of parenting our boys is also a gift. I take this steady current of faith for granted, trusting it to keep me afloat, like those fragile leaf-and-stick sailboats of their childhood. I’ve dipped into my stream of faith a lot lately, holding it up to the light for closer examination, as I’ve watched a couple of my sons face personal trials.

Any parent knows that it’s one thing to tap into your faith and trust in God’s providence to sustain you during your own trials, and quite another to stand in faith while the child you love is in peril of drowning.

A dear friend and I have prayed for one another’s children over the years. It was easier when they were young, frolicking in the frigid creek, to believe those prayers were enough to protect them from the undercurrent of life. Now that they’re adults, we know the rocky patches are theirs to navigate and we pray even harder.

I learned a new word this week, one I can’t believe I’ve never heard before, since I’ve lived it with a passion all these 31 years.

“Storge” (stor-jay) in Greek refers to the natural love and affection of a parent for a child, and of siblings for one another. It’s an emotion that creates a familial bond, and it’s laid alongside the other types of love described in scripture — agape, phileo and eros (unconditional, brotherly and physical love).

According to its definition, storge love compels us to put the needs of one another above our own. It’s found in the Greek compounded with phileo; in English it is a call to:

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10

Putting a child’s needs above our own is usually not a problem for a devoted parent. We can do it to a fault.

But God showed me something important this week in my quest to figure out how to help, how to rescue, these sons walking a painful path. He impressed on me that perhaps the painful path is exactly where He wants them right now, that it’s part of the journey they need to take to get where He wants them to go — where I want them to go.

Can I accept that there will be wounds? Will I allow that the sharp rocks and undercurrents of life have a purpose — even in the life of my precious child?

The liquid faith I hold in my glass jar is littered with bits and pieces of debris from my own journey, collected in the difficult times and giving substance to the current that carries me now. I know I won’t leave the bank of that creek. In devotion, I’ll continue to put my sons’ needs above my own and to pray for a good outcome. But I can’t step into or block the course of their lives, not if I claim to trust God to bring good out of even this.

To honor my sons means to trust them to the one who created them, the ultimate act of storge.

Sharing this today at Thought-Provoking Thursday

What’s Brewing? In Celebration of Small Successes

What's Brewing- Blog badge. (2)One should never discount the value of even the smallest successes — like having your name added to the “barista” chalk board.

For weeks I’ve looked with envy at the names artfully written in glowing marker on a chalkboard sign at Great Lakes Chocolate and Coffee. I knew that it would take time to earn the right to be introduced to our coffee shop clientele as a barista, so I was content to take orders, grind and make fresh coffee, serve bakery and chocolate items and clean up after everyone.

But this was the week I officially learned how to “pull” espresso, and even how to fill, take apart, clean and reassemble the machine that makes that luscious liquid. So finally, during a visit to meet friends at the coffee shop on my day off, I watched the manager pick a colored marker and add my name to the chalkboard.

I was thrilled.

Okay, so learning how to make espresso drinks isn’t the pinnacle of success in my world, but why not pause to celebrate the little victories in life? Can you……

  • Finally make Red Velvet Cake that’s as tasty as your grandmother’s? Good for you!
  • Change the oil in your car without help? Or better yet, change a tire? Bravo!
  • Find your way through downtown Chicago without making a single U-turn or eliciting a blaring horn blast from an impatient taxi driver? Way to go!
  • Finish a five-mile jog without pausing for a rest? Atta girl!

Little victories do matter. Maybe they won’t merit a headline in the local news or a chapter in your memoir, but they can be markers of progress in a life that only you can live.

In honor of the U.S. Women Soccer Team’s world championship, here’s a thought:

Take your victories, whatever they may

 

In the same week I learned to make espresso drinks, I got the hang of creating frozen drinks. And, I showed up at 5:30 a.m. on one day to help open the coffee shop and then stayed until 9:30 p.m. on another day to help close it.

I also had a meaningful and productive conversation with one of my sons, finished a cleaning project that had been haunting me and completed a demanding government permit form that sat way too long in my computer.

We won’t talk about the things I didn’t accomplish.

Life is made up of highs and lows, successes and failures. We’re all way too aware of our failures. Take time to celebrate a few victories.

 

What’s Brewing? Finding Satisfaction in the Work That Finds You

What's Brewing- Blog badge. (2)The rain fell steadily on the pavement outside the coffee shop Saturday morning as a steady flow of customers kept our drive-thru busy.

One brave soul, a woman I judged to be a little younger than myself, ducked through the front door and shook rain from her hair. Ordering a small mocha with whip, she told me she had dashed over from the nearby telephone store. She would be hanging out at the coffee shop for awhile, she said, because her husband and son had responded to an emergency call from an acquaintance with car trouble and left her to wait here.

As we chatted, I learned the woman worked alongside her husband, a farmer, but hadn’t been on a tractor yet this year because she’d had surgery. She missed being involved in the field work.

The woman took a table by the window. Other folks found their way through puddles to grab coffee in the midst of their Saturday morning errands on their day off work.

Bustling to keep up with the orders, I got to thinking about the woman’s dilemma. What do we turn to when the work we enjoy is taken from us? What gives meaning to our lives and fulfillment at the end of the day. And, if this woman truly misses her work, what satisfaction does she derive from being a farmer’s wife, the driver of a tractor?

On my stack of books-to-be-read this summer is Nancy Nordenson’s “Finding Livelihood” — a book about work. A quick perusal promises thoughtful discussion about the value of one’s work. From the back cover copy:

“What do you want to be when you grow up? The answers were our childhood dreams. The reality of adulthood is that what we are and do now is what we became. ‘Finding Livelihood’ is a book about work for grown-ups. It’s about not just the work we thought we wanted but the work we found and the work that found us. It’s also about the work we have lost.”

The work I’m engaged in during this season of life has been chosen as much for pleasure as financial gain. It truly is part of “what I became” when the work I had done for so long (raising and teaching four sons) ended.

The farm wife’s husband and son found her sitting at the window about an hour later. They joined her at the table with their own hot drinks and a refill for her, and she listened intently while they described the accident that required their help.

Pouring roasted coffee beans into the grinder, I smiled with appreciation for the work that has found me. On a rainy Saturday in the middle of June, where I find myself is, in a small way, the fulfillment of an observation offered by Frederick Buechner and quoted by Nancy in her book:

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet.”

What’s Brewing? Because It’s Really Not Just About the Coffee

What's Brewing- Blog badge. (2)There’s a sweet little lady who comes into my coffee shop several times a week to get her special “brew” — a smoothie made with ingredients she gives the baristas along with specific instructions about how much and what to add to her frozen peach beverage. The dear lady chats a bit then finds her favorite booth where she taps into our free Wi-Fi and makes some business calls. She sometimes takes a coffee drink for her “office time”, but always caps it off with her nutritious blend to go.

For many coffee shop customers like this one, it’s not all about the coffee. Just as sharing a meal around a common table is an act of “communion”, sipping a cup of brew in a cozy spot with a positive vibe and a good view holds an element of “self-care” that’s healthy for body and soul.

A couple of years ago, a contributor to the website Buzz Feed compiled this list of 13 different types of people you see in coffee shops:

  1. The stressed out college student
  2. The professional
  3. The person with the super-complicated order that holds up the line
  4. The barista who can’t spell anyone’s name right
  5. The intern getting coffee for her boss
  6. Moms escaping their kids
  7. Moms who can’t escape their kids
  8. The hipster
  9. The would-be novelist
  10. Jobless young adults who have nothing better to do
  11. The cute couple who makes you want to vomit
  12. The person who may be homeless, or may just be unkempt
  13. The actual homeless guy

Another list I found added the true coffee-addict who says “just give me the coffee” then darts out the door or into a dark corner. Our small-town coffee shop probably misses out on a few of these just because of demographics, but I’ll admit to falling into more than one category at various times in my life.

The actual hot brewed coffee or pressed espresso is certainly the reason most people frequent a coffee shop — or maybe it’s the hot tea, frozen beverages, baked goodies or chocolate. Whatever the lure, there’s another important benefit beyond beverages or food.

Pausing for refreshment is like taking a deep breath and saying “I’m worth this. I need it and I deserve it.” Self-care is highly underrated in our crazy, get-ahead world. Stepping off the treadmill for a moment to sit across the table from a friend, read a book or even socialize in the cyber world while nursing a cup of Joe or a frozen smoothie isn’t a bad thing. In fact, people might be a lot happier if they built an occasional “coffee break” into their lives.

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Ruby for WomenI’m honored to be featured today at Ruby for Women with my blog on Elisabeth Elliot.