Tuesday, January 26, 2016

With So Much Thanks

My dear Starbucks regulars:

I've been thinking about you for days, knowing that my last day is fast approaching. I've allowed myself a trip down memory lane, listing how many of you and your drinks I could remember from the eight and a half years I've been asking, "What can I get started for you?"

There are over 150 of you. Oh my, how I have been blessed.

How can I put into words what I have learned from you and come to treasure about you? How can I help you understand how you've, literally, changed my life? Give me a few minutes to try to explain.

Jeff, it all began with you. That early summer morning when I asked how you were and you answered, "Fine." But then I turned around and you decided to trust me with the new and terrible news you'd only learned the night before of Julie's breast cancer. How honored I was--and equally shocked, honestly--that you would share your burden with me, the person who made your coffee each day. I'll never know why you did that, but I'm forever different because of that exchange.

What happened inside of me that day? I understood that what we did each day--my asking, "How are you doing?" and "What can I get started for you?" and "What's your name?"--was something that had the power to transform a transaction into an interaction. A connection became a conversation, and each time we shared a little bit more. The words empowered me to see you and be seen by you, to know you and be known by you. The difference it made when I remembered your name, your drink, that comment you made the last time you were in motivated me to make sure I was a good steward of the glimpses into your lives that you were giving me.

I never treated another transaction the same again, whether I was behind the line or the customer myself. You changed me for the better. Thank you so much.

So many of you saw me, called me by name, and made small talk each day. Over time, we became acquainted, and I came to care about you, more than I expected to. Joe, you always had a joke for me. Rod and Dan, you tipped for your plain old cups of coffee every.single.day and apologized when you didn't have cash on you to put in the tip jar. It wasn't the tipping that was important. It was just one way you acknowledged thankfulness for a service you valued. It was so appreciated.

For some of you, it was all you could do to place your order and give me your name. Every day you honored me by making eye contact. Thank you, Werner and Wolfgang and Prem, and many others like them. You helped me understand better how to create a safe space for you to be who you are. I hope you felt accepted and not accosted by this overly extroverted, naturally caffeinated barista!

Please understand this:  you're not just names and drinks to me. You're the people I've looked forward to seeing every shift and wondered where you went when you didn't walk through that door. For those who left thinking that no one would miss you when you slipped away, know that I did, and I hope you're well.

Thank you for introducing me to your kids--Lacey, Leah, Hannah and Ben, Sierra, Mason and Lexi, Tate--and your wives, for telling me about your vacation plans and upcoming special occasions. I loved every little thing you told me about yourselves--how you tried out for the Cumming Playhouse musical, Joe, and how you were producing a play downtown, Mary, and how you were thinking about asking someone out, Taylor, and how you were caring for your ailing parents, Jane, Gordon and Kathy, and David and Snoanne. I loved hearing about your experiences, large and small, special and ordinary.

You may find this hard to believe, but I carried many of your stories home with me. The things you said stayed with me, and I prayed for you, Jeff, to get a new job; for you, Shelly, to find comfort after your dad died; and for you, Chris, to find relief from your insomnia.

Thank you for allowing me to shoulder your concerns. Carolyn, you were the second person after Jeff to offer me a glimpse into your pain. Little did I know that my usual, "How are you doing today?" would make you feel safe to share about that first dose of morphine you'd given your mother minutes before you walked through the cafe doors. You taught me that you never know what someone else is going through, so I need to be kind. Thank you, Lisa, for trusting me with your fear about a scan that turned out to be nothing. Thank you, Katelyn, for letting me hug you after I saw your unshed tears and you told me your best friend had died. I'm glad you knew on some level that you would find caring people when you came in for your drink. Thank you, Dr. Larry, for coming by for a bolstering cup of dark coffee before you headed down to the VA for your appointments. Thank you, Cheryl and Carolyn and Arjun and Angelo, for embracing this Third Place as somewhere to be known and becoming a community of friends who watch out for each other.

All this? This is why Starbucks has been so much more than coffee for me.

Thank you to my first manager, Clay Bartley, for taking a chance on someone who asked if she had to like coffee in order to work there. Thank you, Kimmy Yee Poisson, for taking your job so seriously, for doing it so well, and for caring so genuinely, so deeply about your people. I'm thankful to have been one of them. Thank you, Michelle, for understanding me. Thank you, Zoe, for doing what you were good at and not pretending to be someone you weren't. Finally, thank you, Lawson, for not letting me quit when I wanted to.

To all the partners I've worked with at the Bethelview, Ronald Reagan, and Bethany Bend stores, thank you for giving your best, making it so much fun, and helping me not take myself so seriously. We're in the people business selling coffee. Don't ever forget. I've been the one left behind many times as you have moved on, and I've rejoiced with you as you've embarked on new adventures. I know you're doing the same for me.

It really is time to go.

Here's what's next. Twenty-seven years ago, I earned a degree in communications and worked in my field. After dedicating myself to motherhood for almost 22 years, I've become an empty nester. I've decided to start writing again, beginning with this blog that I launched last September. (Feel free to read the archives!)

I've embraced that I am a writer. I'll be working as a freelance writer and editor, and collaborating in the wee hours with a dear friend on a project that may become a book or an app. Whenever you're curious about what's happening with me, know that you can come here to read about it. I'd love to know what's going on with you too, so please leave comments! Maybe we could meet for coffee--seriously!

It has been my genuine joy to help you start your day with a smile and some caffeine. Thank you for making it so much more than a job.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Harbingers

photo by Tim Street
I heard them before I saw them. Cheep-cheep. Cheep-cheep. Cheep-cheep. As Dakota and I rounded the cul-de-sac sidewalk, we came upon, by my quick count in the fading light, at least a dozen robins. Then, not a minute later, another flock burst forth from their large bush of a hiding place.

After living 15 years next door to the Sytsmas, I've come to view robin sightings in winter as a harbinger. There, against the Illinois snow, they were a harbinger of spring. Whenever one was spotted, ice cream was dessert after dinner, a promise of being warm again.

So today, I couldn't help but see those birds as a harbinger of a different kind. A harbinger of change.

I will work my final shift at Starbucks on Thursday, Jan. 28. Eight years and four months of, "What can I get started for you?" and "How can I serve you?"

I'll share more about the end and what I know about what's coming next week.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Faith and Doubt

I picked up my phone from my beside table to check the time and saw that there was a post from Preston Yancey, a writer, author, and Anglican priest in training who's trying to figure out God. Typically, I don't like to start the day with my phone in my hand because I'm tempted by this very type of thing. But my alarm clock is broken, so I decided to waive my rule and read the post.

Preston wrote today about the struggle of faith in light of being a new father to a son born with significant challenges--born with these challenges after Preston and an entire community of people prayed for his healing in eutero this summer.

Then I read about Jesus in John 14:8-11. Philip asked Him to do something for him and all the disciples. "Show us the Father," he asked. "That will be enough for us." As I read Jesus' response, I had one of those rare experiences where I could actually imagine Jesus' tone as He responded. I believe He sounded tired and a bit surprised, although I'm not sure anything could surprise the One Who knows my thoughts before I speak them (Psalm 139:4). If I'd been Jesus in this situation, I would've wondered, with a high degree of incredulous disbelief, how Philip or any of them could even ask such a question after all He'd shown them.

Still, He provided what they needed with this explanation: "If you've seen Me, you've seen the Father." I was so engaged by this exchange that I reread it several times, wondering how Jesus felt and what He meant by His words.

I put down my phone and pulled on some clothes to take Dakota for her early morning constitutional, aka poop walk. As we walked in the dark in the not-yet-falling-hard rain, I began to think about what I'd read in light of my circumstances. I can relate to Philip and the disciples. Even though I have been a follower of Jesus since I was four, I continue to have things I want to know from God. By my own estimation, my belief is great but, still, I want to SEE. I think this is the tension between faith and doubt. I know what I know, but sometimes I want to see what can't be seen. I put too much weight on what is temporary and not enough on what is eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).

Lately, I feel like all I'm doing is coming to God with too many requests. I want to see Him move in people's lives, demonstrate His power, reveal His love, defeat the enemy, and and and. I don't know how to listen very well. It gets really quiet when I try and that makes me uncomfortable. Someone I read recently suggested that our prayers might come off to God like demands--move, demonstrate, reveal, defeat, do do do. Like He can be told how to do ANYTHING. Like He's under any obligation to give me what I long to see, see, see.

I don't want to relate to God that way, but is there any other way than from a place of dependence? I think dependence is the expression of faith, praise, hope, belief, thanksgiving, as much as it is an admission of doubt, anger, confusion, and fear. I think God knows that I will accept whatever He chooses to do. I express my dependence through doubt when I admit my own inability to make any of what I'm asking happen. That too is faith.

Preston admitted that he and God have had moments since his son's birth when he has "simultaneously begged Him to heal his son and told Him to go to hell." Does this mean Preston doesn't believe? That he doesn't have enough faith not to doubt God or not question His ways out loud?


I don't have a nice bow to wrap up this post. After I got back from the walk, I avoided sitting down at the blue table for a good hour, not really sure I had something to say. Some days I question whether my words are enough. I set those questions aside for the sake of the process of leaning into the unknowable, and this post is the result.

The relationship between faith and doubt is much like Jesus' relationship with His disciples, with Preston, and with me. He welcomes us to come to Him with what we know and what we don't understand, and says to each one of us what He said to his disciples: "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me, or else believe on account of the works themselves." Sometimes I find it easier to believe the first part than to believe the last part. Jesus didn't heal everybody, but He did die for everybody. The tough stuff has to be worked out between you and Him.

Ask Preston.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Power of Noticing

Today, I'm guest posting at QPlace's blog about the power of noticing others as you go about your day. Never underestimate the good you can do with a few kind words. They changed my life. Read more at:

Friday, January 8, 2016


I like counting change. I'm not sure why, but I like sorting loose coins, organizing them in stacks, and tallying the amount.

The new year always seems to bring about similar opportunities for calculating a different kind of change--sorting out what my focus could be for the year, organizing my thoughts about specific opportunities, and tallying up the potential result if I were to actually implement the changes.

Yet, while I find those exercises interesting, I resist them most of the time. I don't make resolutions or set goals. I've always been a realist, and dreaming seems scary. I've also learned that I respond better to change when I know God's orchestrating it, than when I work for it--kind of like Mary and Joseph had to do when God, not them, brought about change--MASSIVE CHANGE--in their lives. Talk about two people who had to adapt! Here's a short list:

+Mary gets life-altering news that she would be THE Virgin who would give birth to the long-awaited Messiah.

+Joseph hears a message from an angel when he is considering whether or not to believe Mary's story.

+They obey Caesar Augustus' decree to participate in the census, which means that Mary will not be surrounded by her mother or her auntie or her mother-in-law when the time comes for her to give birth.

+Joseph takes what the inn owner in Bethlehem has to offer him, even though it's very less than ideal.

+They receive visitors, both lowly shepherds with nothing to offer but an outrageous story about angels and wise men bearing gifts in acknowledgment that their son is a long-awaited king.

+They ponder Simeon's hard words about Jesus' future.

+They heed the angel's warning that they must flee to Egypt for an unknown length of time.

The common denominator in all these situations? God precipitated the changes. And Mary and Joseph got to choose: accept or resist.

Which will you choose as change presents itself this year?