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. 

 

 

When All You Can Do Is ‘Do the Next Thing’

Do the next thing

When I learned earlier this week of the passing of author Elisabeth Ellliot, a warm rush of gratitude washed over me — gratitude for what her life had taught me and for the joy she must be feeling now that she is reunited with those she loves and is sitting at the feet of Jesus. Last fall, I wrote a piece about Elliot as part of the challenge to write for 31 days. Here is that essay ~

In the days when my life was filled with diapers, alphabet cards, math books, stinky boys’ gym socks and  the never-ending question “what will I make for dinner?”. . . .

When it felt like I’d never see the laundry room floor, never get to read that book waiting on the shelf or find a moment to paint my nails and talk on the phone with a friend. . . .

In those halcyon days of young motherhood, these words dropped into my lap:

“Do the next thing.”

For a long time, I thought they were first said by a favorite author, Elisabeth Elliot.

Elisabeth Elliot
Elisabeth Elliot

Elisabeth’s biography of Amy Carmichael “A Chance to Die” was pivotal in my growth as a woman of God. Her personal account of her marriage to her first husband, Jim, and his death on the mission field was one of those books I longed for time to read during busy mothering days.

In researching Elisabeth for an essay awhile back, I learned that the words she often quoted came from a poem whose author is unknown. Those four words carried me through many a long day, and they still come to mind when I’m overwhelmed with too much to do, or when I am downtrodden and just do not know what to do. At those times, I still tell myself:

“Do the next thing.”

My research on Elisabeth turned up a treasure which I want to share with you here along with the words of that life-altering poem. Twenty years ago, in 1994, Elisabeth included the poem in her ministry’s newsletter. That newsletter is available for download and it includes more of this fine woman’s teaching. (You can find it here.) Elisabeth is 87 and she and her husband, Lars, no longer travel and teach, but at her Web site are links to her devotionals and radio broadcasts.

And here is that lovely poem:

Do The Next Thing

From an old English parsonage, down by the sea,

There came in the twilight, a message to me;

Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,

Hath, as it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.

And on through the hours the quiet words ring

Like a low inspiration — DO THE NEXT THING

Many a questioning, many a fear, many a doubt, hath its quieting here.

Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,

Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.

Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,

Trust them with Jesus — DO THE NEXT THING

Do it immediately; do it with prayer;

Do it reliantly, casting all care; do it with reverence,

Tracing His Hand, who placed it before thee with

Earnest command. stayed on Omnipotence,

Safe ‘neath His wing, leave all resultings,

DO THE NEXT THING

Looking to Jesus, ever serener,

(Working or suffering) be thy demeanor,

In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,

The light of His countenance be thy psalm.

Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing,

Then, as He beckons thee — DO THE NEXT THING

What’s Brewing? When Age Is Just A Number

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A part-time job at my favorite local coffee shop provides a front-row seat to everyday life. I’m sharing a few observations here on Mondays. Enjoy!

This isn’t exactly news to me, but from my vantage point behind the coffee counter I’ve taken note this week of this truth — age is just a number.

Here are a couple of examples from my recent shifts at Great Lakes Chocolate and Coffee:

  • The 12-year-old young lady who came to the counter with her mom and older sister had all the poise of a woman twice her age when she casually told her mom “I’ll pay for my own today.” Opening her sparkly wallet, she drew out what might be baby-sitting money or her allowance and placed an order for a vanilla caramel latte with whipped cream. Then, counting out her change, she added a chocolate-covered pretzel to her order. Cup and pretzel in hand and a smile on her face, she proudly joined her family in their booth. Whether you’re 12 or 62, sometimes special treats taste best when you sacrifice something to get them.
  • “So, are you the new manager?” An efficient and friendly delivery boy carrying boxes through our back door made this assumption when he saw me, the oldest female behind the counter, pulling supplies from the freezer. With a chuckle, I pointed him to our very capable 20-something manager who is juggling college, a baking business and this full-time job. I may look the part, but she has the energy and the courage to fill the bill.
  • A sweet older couple, probably in their retirement years, placed their order and took their cups to a quiet corner booth where they sat on the same side of the table and commenced a conversation littered with chuckles and smiles. Their casual familiarity declared how much they enjoyed one another’s company. Another pair with the obvious glow of newly-dating or newly-married sweetly teased one another while choosing from the frozen drinks. Their young fingers linked casually between them, they fairly skipped back across the parking lot to his pick-up truck. Love declares — age is just a number.

With Christ as my Blueprint, There Will Be Fruit

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I can’t believe I wanted to give up on these, but earlier this spring, when I assessed the state of my weedy patch of strawberry plants, I was discouraged.

“Just till them under,” I told my husband. But, stubborn man that he is, he kept a wide strip of the struggling plants. “I like picking fresh strawberries on my way to the barn,” he said.

I let him know it would be his job to weed and tend the pitiful plants while I put my efforts into the rest of the garden. Of course, that didn’t happen.

Then one Saturday, while he was hard at work elsewhere, I decided to give him the gift of strawberries. I sat at the edge of the patch and laboriously pulled all the stubborn grass that was taking over. The blossoms were just beginning to show, and I hoped it wasn’t too late.

It wasn’t. I’ve harvested a small mountain of berries in the past two weeks, and there are more waiting for me now.

Funny thing about fruit — it’s almost always preceded by the blessing of blossoms and it benefits from careful tending.

The familiar verses in Galatians remind us of a different kind of fruit, the characteristics of a follower of Christ:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

Even on my best days I exhibit maybe three or four “fruits”. Other times, my branches are nearly  bare. But I learned something about myself recently. On my own, I’m not capable of even one of these Christ-like characteristics.

The good news is, from the moment I became a Christian, the Holy Spirit began a work in me, reforming and shaping me into the image of Christ, the blueprint for my character.

Because of the Holy Spirit living in me, I am learning to love like Jesus loved when He laid down his life for me. I can experience His joy and know His peace because of the work of the Holy Spirit in me. I am learning patience through lessons He brings into my life and by imitating the example of Christ, I can show kindness toward people who are not like me. Any goodness that shows up in my character is because of my God, who is nothing but good, and my faithfulness is rooted in learning to put my trust in Jesus. And finally, I am learning self-control every day as God shows me how to resist temptation and make right choices.

In my own strength, I fall short. Thank you, Jesus, that I’m not working at this alone. Just like I can’t “force” strawberry plants to bear fruit, there is no way I can cause these characteristics to magically become part of my make-up. But with careful tending and by intentionally opening up to the Holy Spirit’s influence in my life, I just might bear fruit after all.

To help you remember the fruit of the spirit, I’m sharing a little ditty I learned as a camp counselor.

What’s Brewing? Where Everybody Knows Your Name

What's Brewing- Blog badge. (2)My part-time job at my favorite local coffee shop provides a front-row seat to everyday life. I’ll be sharing a few observations here on Monday mornings. Enjoy.

 

 

There’s a ring of truth to the words in the “Cheers” theme song:

“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name. “

Whether they’re ordering a foamy mug of brew or a freshly brewed latte with extra foam, people want to be known.

It will take time, but I hope to learn the names and drink preferences of our regular customers at the coffeehouse where I work part-time a couple of days a week.

I’m starting with one gentleman in particular. I already know he likes extra shots of espresso in his dry latte, but his doctor has made him cut back. A couple of times a week, this fellow takes a break from his daily routine for a strong cup of coffee and a chat with the girls behind the counter at my coffee shop.

Last week, after the usual jokes about his extra shots, this guy in the snappy black suit with the white clerical collar told his favorite barista that he’d been to the doctor and failed his stress test. Then he casually added that his doctor also told him he has cancer.

A moment of silence. Kind words of concern from the girls as he averted his eyes. Raising his cup, he smiled and turned to his favorite booth, tossing a final comment over his shoulder.

“But I can still drink coffee!”

In the good times and the bad, it’s nice to be known.

(Author’s Note: Sharing this video does not mean I advocate “raising a glass”. Rather, I’m hoping you’ll just share your life — maybe over a cup of coffee.)

 

What’s Brewing? Observations from the Coffee Shop

Why in the world would a 60-something chick who has waited through three careers and four children to have time on her hands decide to work in a coffee shop?

Because it smells SO GOOD……

No, really. There are plenty of reasons. And when I got up at 6 to be at work by 7 this week, I had to remind myself:

  • It’s a chance to get out of my “bubble” and be around people who don’t all think like I do.
  • Learning to run a digital cash register and make espresso drinks will exercise my brain. (Still learning the cash register and it will be awhile before I get promoted to “barista”.)
  • The 20-something girls who make up most of the staff are refreshingly kind, efficient, energetic and fun (though one of them did ask me if it feels strange to work surrounded by her generation. It doesn’t.)
  • Adding structure to my life actually makes me more productive. I tend to make the most of my free time when I know it might be limited.
  • I enjoy and respect the guys who own the business. They’re local and they’re good at what they do.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt said “Do one thing every day that scares you.” The days I don my coffee house T-shirt and step behind the counter are a pleasant kind of scary and they challenge me in ways that cause an adrenalin rush. (Or is that the caffeine I can freely consume?)
  • My current “career” is crunching numbers for our home-based business. Working in a coffee shop is a welcomed contrast.
  • People who frequent a coffee shop are really nice. They’re giving themselves a break and they usually feel pretty good about that. It’s nice to be part of that.
  • I like the Pandora station they play.
  • I have a son in college. My earnings might buy a book or two.
  • I’ll get a discount on my favorite locally roasted coffee beans and espresso drinks. Okay, that’s a pretty superficial reason, but it is a nice perk.
  • I plan to bring my laptop along and when my shift is over, I’ll be able to slide into my favorite booth and get some writing done.

What's Brewing- Blog badge. (2)Of course, everything in life is fodder for a blog post, and working at Great Lakes Chocolate and Coffee is no exception. Starting next week, on Monday mornings I’ll share “What’s Brewing? Observations from the Coffee Shop”. No gossip, no names, no nastiness. Just thoughts on human nature and the good stuff that’s shared over a cup of coffee.

So that will be a large vanilla caramel latte with soy and an extra shot of espresso, no whip? No problem.

(Awhile back I was inspired to write this while sitting in another Great Lakes coffee shop: “Taking a Minute for Latte, Laughter and Life.”)

Words For A Generation: Be, Listen and Tell

Have you heard the story about the well-heeled Italian soldier who went AWOL while heading off to war? It seems that on the path to battle, young Frank had a “vision” and was moved to return to his hometown. On the way, he ran into a bunch of beggars and decided to join their ranks. After hanging out with them for awhile on the streets of a large city, he returned home a changed man. He had lost his taste for “worldly” things and chose instead a life of poverty and preaching.

Frank pursued a monastic life, one devoted to sharing the gospel. He is the first follower of Christ to bear the stigmata (body marks similar to the crucifixion wounds of Christ) and he staged the first known live depiction of the birth of Christ, The Nativity. He was a peace-loving man who implored religious leaders to bring an end to religious wars.

Among other things, he said this:

“Preach the gospel at all times. And when necessary, use words.”

Frank (whose given name was Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardoni) was canonized as Saint Francis of Assisi two years after his death, nearly 800 years ago.

I shared this story with a group of teenagers in a friend’s living room a couple of weeks ago. These kids have been gathering weekly during the school year for an informal Bible study that’s been going strong for over 10 years. No church affiliations, no preachers, just some local kids and a few adults who want to mentor them. They call themselves PBnJ — People Believing in Jesus.

I encouraged those young ones on that spring evening to think about who they are and how the world sees them. I told them I had just read of some names being thrown about for their generation, the one following Millennials. (I wrote about Millennials here). Among the potential tags for kids born around and after 2000 are Generation Z, indicating they don’t know what’s going on in the world, and The iGeneration, a nod to the fact young people are pretty attached to their electronic devices.

I asked them if either characterization rings true, and they thought not. Instead, in the words of one of their peers, they consider themselves “smarter, tougher and more savvy” than the teens who’ve gone before them.

So what does that mean as they embark on their “path to battle?” Do they feel prepared for where that path may lead? And as professing Christians, are they willing to bear the markings of Christ?

To go with their PBnJ, I offered them some BLT:

Be who you say you are. If you profess to be a follower of Christ, live it out with your actions and lifestyle (the whole “preach the gospel at all times” thing). And be all that you can be. Shoot for every ounce of the potential God has placed in you.

Listen to people who truly care about you and to God, who cares more than anyone. Really listen, letting words of instruction and encouragement soak in. Turn them over in your mind, study them, find the truth in them.

Tell others when God shows up in your life (and He will — usually when you least expect it). Don’t be shy about telling others. Again, here’s that chance to “preach the gospel” with your life.

I could share BLT with them because these are all reminders that I need to hear daily. I think we all do, whatever our generation.

Finally, I told them that while life will get messy and scary and confusing at times, what’s expected of them is really pretty simple, though it’s sometimes so very hard to do:

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The Croaking of Frogs and God’s Mandate to Tend the Garden

Bull frogs greet me as I stroll past the pond on my way to the cabin.

Glub. Glub. They WILL be heard.

Song birds and fat buzzing bumblebees compete with the frogs.

I sit on the cabin porch at the edge of the pond and take it all in.

It is quiet, but oh, so noisy on this spring evening.

Each and every spring, I marvel at the gift of NEW.

As winter wanes and spring approaches, I never fail to be surprised by how God knows just when I have had all the brown and grey and white I can take, and He delivers a wide swath of green, punctuated with all the colors that have laid dormant through winter.

Never more than in springtime do I appreciate Scripture’s promise that God will restore heaven and earth. The perfect earth as He created it will be returned to perfection — our forever home for Eternity.

Glory!

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A long-awaited piece of mail arrived today, giving voice to my appreciation for God’s creativity. The first issue of my subscription to the beautiful Plough Quarterly holds pages of stunning art and photographs, surrounded by literary reflections on this quarter’s topic: Earth. As I turn its smooth, thick pages, words of praise rise and images from an artist’s eye share truth.

Many times, I have been cautious in my praise and frugal in voicing concern over how we care for this gift, fearful some might accuse me of loving the creation more than the Creator. But the perceptions of others matter little alongside what I know in my heart — God’s goodness is reflected in His creation. He is pleased by my “Hallelujahs” and He delights in bringing me joy while I sit on my humble porch, listening to birds sing and frogs croak.

photo (12)From the Spring 2015 issue of Plough Quarterly, these words by theologian and scholar N.T. Wright (excerpted from his book “Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues”):

“In the new creation, the ancient human mandate to look after the garden is reaffirmed……The resurrection of Jesus is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, and the gift of the Spirit is there to make us the fully human beings we were supposed to be, precisely so that we can fulfill that mandate at last. What are we waiting for? Jesus is coming. Let’s go and plant those trees.”

 

 

Getting Out of My Literary Rut and Sharing Some Thoughts on Writing

It’s good to stretch yourself, to get outside your comfort zone, think outside the box.

That includes picking up a book that wouldn’t necessarily be in your “wheelhouse” — especially when there’s already a stack of favorites waiting to be read. Such was the case when I checked out a copy of the Young Adult novel “Bright Young Things.”

I never read YA. Never.

But I’m doing research for a story set in the 1920s and because I’ve read Gatsby a number of times, I wanted something different. This book, one in a trilogy by Anna Godbersen, was recommended on Goodreads as offering an accurate depiction of the Flapper era.

From the book:

By the summer of 1929, when the weather was just getting warm enough that girls could exhibit exactly how high hemlines had risen, Prohibition had been in effect for so long it had ceased to bother anyone much. The city had a speakeasy per every fifty souls, or so the preachers liked to exclaim on Sundays, and sweet-faced girls from the hinterlands were no longer blinded by wood alcohol, for the real stuff had become plenty easy to get. The Eighteenth Amendment had converted us all to grateful outlaws.”

One chapter in, and I’m hooked. Two Midwestern girls running away to the “big city.” What’s not to love? I’m fascinated with the 1920s and I think this story will be a great pay-off for getting outside my reading groove.

I’ll let you know!

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Dorothy Parker famously once said “I hate writing, I love having written.”

Some days, I feel just like that. Writing can be a painful process and a lonely occupation. At the same time, sitting down to record thoughts and stories swirling in my head can also be the most exhilarating part of my day.

For me, the reward  for “having written” is getting to share it with others, especially fellow writers. Whenever I have the opportunity to conversate, commiserate and celebrate with “writerly” types, I’m there.

My first Breathe Christian Writers Conference last fall was all this, and more. What a great place for writers of all genres and levels of achievement to connect and network!

I have the honor today to contribute a little piece about writing to the Breathe Blog. When you stop by their website, check out the 2015 Breathe Conference, October 9 and 10 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’ll meet you there!

In the meantime, join me today at the Breathe blog.

When I opened my laptop and began writing again three years ago, I harbored the fear that at 60-something I was too late in coming to the party. I’ve been pleasantly surprised……