The Soul of a Coffee Shop

Tuesday's CoffeeWhile visiting a well-known-chain coffee shop during the Christmas holiday, I decided to sit for a while and enjoy my drink rather than scoot out the door to my next destination.
The cacophony of sounds which embellished this locale reminded me of an orchestra tuning their instruments prior to a performance. At first the sounds seemed like unorganized noise – and could even be considered annoying if in a grumpy mood. But since I slowed down that morning, I heard instead, a strange harmony.

As I listened, I heard eclectic Christmas music playing through the overhead speakers; steamers making hot milk and froth for lattes and cappuccinos; employees taking and repeating orders; a middle-aged man talking with a younger man about weekly events and faith (a Bible lay on the table); two men sharing stories at a perimeter table; the gentle clicking of a young woman typing away on her laptop; the shuffling of the morning newspaper; and the constant stream of people coming and going while exchanging pleasantries and orders with the staff. And, of course, continuous texting.

Most of the customers were in a hurry, but a few not so much. They seemed to be the frequent visitors known by manager and employees alike. There were somber-looking people and joy-filled souls, and preoccupied folk from all walks of life. Some ordered regular coffee, but most selected specialty drinks, custom-made to their particular tastes. Many of these specialty drinks are rather expensive, too, but this is an affluent community and the average customer wants for little materially. Nevertheless, there are needs…there always are.

As I sat listening and watching the steady flow of consumers and busy staff, I realized that this coffee shop (like most) represents a cross-section of our current culture. Some of the people I witnessed could be on the verge of a collapse: emotional, relational, career-wise, health related or possibly financial. Most, I suspect, struggle with something. I certainly do. This much I know…everyone has a story. Some are tragic while some are remarkable and inspiring. Most fall somewhere in between. Perhaps this is why we are drawn to the exceptional, the heroic, and the inspirational. Average can seem so boring.

If we are honest, the majority of us see ourselves as average – and we probably are. There is nothing wrong with that, for without average, we wouldn’t have exceptional. Those who are exceptional-who excel above most-are flaunted and often placed on precarious pedestals of admiration. To be considered the best or most popular at something is alluring. Haven’t we all thought what it would be like to be the best athlete, musician, surgeon, writer, race car driver, entertainer, etc.? And yet, if we actually achieved this vaulted status, we would become susceptible to a host of potential problems, such as loss of privacy, inflated egos, self-absorption, detachment from average people and average lives, forgetting those in poverty, and the list goes on. We’ve all read stories of celebrities and athletes who still struggle to find love and acceptance, despite having achieved fame and worldly success. So many dream of achieving some sort of remarkable status or gaining peace of mind, but, instead, find ourselves miserable, especially during the holidays.

I think most of us try too hard in just about everything we do. Whether at work, at home or at play, we push-push-push until we have nothing left to give. Life becomes a balancing act, and peace and contentment are forced out of the daily equation. We miss out on the simple act of living-of being alive. There is this constant striving for that piece of golden fruit which is just out of our reach. When we fail to secure it, we panic inwardly and ask ourselves, ” Why not me?”. When some of us do grab onto it, it soon loses its luster and we become dissatisfied again. We humans are masters at repeating this cycle.

With the world seemingly spinning out of control, we become even more anxious. This tension leads to lives devoid of hope, and ultimately, joy. I know about anxiety and striving and even self-pity. I don’t come to you as one who possesses exceptional anything or as living a care-free life. On the contrary, 2015 has been a very difficult year for many reasons. Yet, I awakened today. No chalk lines outlining my body. Inward wounds perhaps, but I am still alive and have eternal promises spoken to me by the only One who can legitimately offer and secure them. Yes, this source is Christ. His love is extravagant, and far better than any of the gifts we may receive or give.

My Christmas wish for all is to find Him who seeks us. By doing so, all of our problems won’t vanish immediately, but our souls will be renewed, and a sense of peace and joy will eventually take residence. This world has nothing close to compete with this gift of love filled with grace. His fruit will never tarnish nor fade. Merry Christmas !

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Quote & Pic of the Day, No. 5 of 24

I have learned all too well that I am prone to being anxious about what is next up for me in this game of life. I don’t get too concerned about the day to day things, but more about big picture things such as career choices, relocating to another home, dealing with confrontation, and even discerning God’s will. So, when I heard this quote in a talk a few years ago it resonated with me. Perhaps it will provide you with some comfort and peace regardless of the cause of anxiety. BTW, I am waiting for my 1960 Corvette!

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” Enjoy what you have while you wait for what you want.”  Tony Evans

Why I Blog

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Funny, but I never, ever would have suspected that illness would unlock the door to my public writing.

After years of chronic back pain which culminated in a spinal fusion, I began to blog. I’ve always liked to put my thoughts on paper. As a child I would write notes of affection to my mom. When I dated I would write notes and poems to Cheryl. Once, I wrote a poem of gratitude for my dad a few years before he died. I would often record thoughts and experiences for no particular purpose, other than to solidify what I was thinking at the time. In the ninth grade when I was forced to make a selection as to what vocation I wanted to pursue, I chose journalism. I did not walk this path professionally, but in some small way I have practiced it by scribbling my thoughts down ever since.

The years of chronic pain took their toll on my physical health. Also, during the past decade I lost parents and nieces to the grave, left a partnership which ended up in broken relationships and was involved in a ministry debacle involving leaders who were my close friends. The stage was set and I eventually succumbed to a rather serious bout of depression which lasted nearly four years. Anxiety was a constant companion, as was fear and confusion. This was not that long ago and it was an ugly time. As I walked through this illness, I felt as though I were caught in a maze without a way out. When I fell asleep at night, not waking up became a comforting thought.

The recognition of my illness was forced upon me by extreme anxiety attacks. I reluctantly sought help. It is difficult for a self-sufficient man to admit that he has been taken down by an “ illness of weakness ”, as I once thought depression was. After a few doctors, several medications, and counseling, I started to pull out of my personal hell. I prayed often during this period. They were short prayers because my attention span was short. I didn’t receive any answers which perplexed me, however, I never felt abandoned by God-just tested. I thought about Job a lot.

Once I began to experience sporadic rays of light illuminate my being, I ruminated about what had been taking place within me. I recall reading a few helpful books and many a self-help book with multiple keys to wholeness and significance. They confused me so I quit reading them. What works for one may work for another, but in general each person must seek and discover his or her own formula for wholeness. It is the ‘ living abundantly ‘ part of my existence that I struggle with the most. I’m still searching while trying to enjoy what I have and where I am. Writing has become a panacea for me.

I was fortunate to come across an invitation thrown out by Civitas Press to contribute to a collaborative effort to create a book about depression. I wrote a short essay and was accepted. The book was published and my name was among the list of authors. There was no compensation, except the hope that whoever reads this book will benefit from it. After I received my free copy, I began to read the stories of others who suffered from depression. I couldn’t finish the book. It depressed me!

This brief encounter with having a piece of my writing published gave me confidence to explore how I could continue to write and be heard. Writing is a process of self-discovery, as much as it is anything else. I wanted to know me better, and I wanted to help others in the process. I was encouraged by a wonderful young lady named Angel, who was the marketing director of an inspirational website. After we had a few chats over the internet, she said I should consider creating a blog. I didn’t have a clue as to what a blog was so I began to learn. At some pivotal point during this process, I made the leap and started a blog in August of 2012. It was liberating and scary at the same time. It still is.

I concluded my inaugural post with these words, “And, maybe, I will begin to remove the hinges from the door that I can’t seem to open wide, and instead, remove it. Why should the door exist anyway? Who do I want to keep out, and why do I want to stay in? I don’t know. However, I seek to find out ”.

This was my way of expressing the frustration which percolated within me. To be true to myself, I can’t state that I am much farther along in answering those questions. However, one thing I do know is that I am not alone. My family and close friends have been a great support. Also, I have met some very wonderful and talented people as a result of posting and following other’s blogs. The greatest satisfaction I experience occurs during my interactions with others. My goal is to encourage and inspire so I am afforded the opportunity to do both via my writing and the posting of my photography. My soul has received the beneficial balm of inspired words and photographs by my fellow sojourners. I am grateful, and encouraged, as well.

My essence can best be described as tossed salad these days as I struggle to find my place in this world, as Michael W. Smith once sang about. At this stage of my life I am astonished that I am where I am. I fully expected to be more certain about life…and me. This does not mean I don’t have a strong set of core values. I do. The road I have traveled has been full of twists and turns, bumps and bruises. But, I must ask, haven’t all of ours been like that? Jesus told His followers that each day has enough trouble of its own. Those who are going through serious trials would even say this is an understatement. Of course, our Lord never under or over stated anything. He was simply making the point that life is hard. Therefore, we are encouraged to trust in Him; the Way, the Truth and the Life. This imploring to trust is easier said than done, but not impossible or He wouldn’t have commanded us to do so in the first place. ‘Challenging’ may be a more accurate assessment when it comes to taking up our crosses and following (trusting & obeying) Christ. Dying to self is not enjoyable.

Writing for me is a tonic of sorts. Sometimes it is bittersweet. At other times it is smooth and refreshing. Always, it is different. For each thought, every idea, the occasional epiphany are unique from one another. Multiply that dynamic by everyone who holds the pen or punches a keyboard and we have a vast garden variety of words which can impact us. It is my sincerest hope that my words make a positive impression, and occasionally inspire. At the very least, I pray my words don’t offend. To challenge and question is okay…yes?  I hope you can relate. Life is too short to waste on the trivial.

One last thought; actually more of a postscript. The personal experiences I listed are not to gain pity or sympathy. They are real, they hurt, and I am still wrestling with the residual effects of depression and, of course, daily pain. However, because so many people deal with so much more hardship, I considered not posting this piece. I did post, in spite of my reluctance, because I want others to relate and to be encouraged. Please note that throughout my life I have been the recipient of so many more positives than the negatives I have identified. In a nutshell, I have been blessed.

I have gleaned wisdom from the words of Christopher Reeves, after he was paralyzed, when he simply stated that he had accepted the cards he was dealt and was doing the best he could to play them. I am coping, striving, growing and stumbling. I press on, as the Apostle Paul proclaimed. I honestly believe the goal is well worth the trials. Not to say this is an easy thing to boast of when I am at my worst. Interestingly, I have noticed this: the darker the trial, the clearer the goal. In no way am I comparing myself to Stephan when he was being stoned to death, but there is a great object lesson to be learned from this tragic incident. Immediately before he died he saw Heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. What a glorious vision he was given. The Good Shepherd yearns to restore souls and invites all to spend eternity with Him.