By Sue Duby —
My happy place is a coffee shop. Not just any coffee shop. Something special and unique. Comfy chairs. A new discovery. Quiet music. A corner where I can get in to my “groove” and let my thoughts drift. A strong latte laced with heart-inscribed creamy foam.
I’m always on the hunt for a new one. I’ve graced the doors of most every coffee shop in Northwest Arkansas at least once. In the process, favorites have emerged. All unique. All drawing me in for varied reasons.
The “Quiet Starbucks”. Loads of tables and room to stretch and breathe. Safety to chat with a friend, knowing neighboring “sippers” won’t hear much. Who knew absence of a drive-through window creates a blanket of calm inside? Definitely preferred for deep girlfriend conversation. And the cold brew…perfect for a stiff wakeup of concentrated caffeine and tummy-happy low acid.
“The Holler”. A massive buzzing space filled with “youngsters”… you know, the 20 and 30 somethings with cool boots, ear buds and laptops. Some surrounded by files, books and notepads. Others gathered in energized groups, hunched over tables, puzzling through challenges I’ll never understand. The air drips with vision, creativity and intensity. In the midst, I sip my latte with a smile that says, “Go grab your dreams!”… grateful for a fresh generation.
Kennedy’s. The hipster corner spot that first grabbed my heart. Loud music, always a buzz of excited conversation. That corner, window seat claimed as my own. Where my heart settled and I wrote our first update to friends and supporters from our new home in Arkansas. Where I realized if I sat still long enough, shifted my focus to a listening pose for God to nudge and whisper, I’d get in my “zone” and words would come forth.
Of all my coffee wanderings, only one led to an unexpected ongoing journey of wonder and anticipation, watching God’s hand at work. It all began with a “toe- tipping”, cautious “gonna check it out” moment, looking for a quiet place out of the house, peeking through the doors of a hotel lobby minutes from our driveway. Soothing splashing from a central fountain, high-backed chairs gracing multiple empty bistro tables and a tucked-away coffee bar led me to heave a deep sigh. “This is going to be great!”.
While grabbing my coffee from the barista, I smiled and gave the learned-from-Chuck-gratitude response…”Thank you for your service!”. . . more automatic than genuinely “in the moment”. Still, the woman smiled back with an “I love my job!” kind of posture. Two hours later, after delightful quiet with my computer and classical tunes coursing through my headphones, I headed home.
The following week, I grabbed Chuck to experience my new discovery. This time, a teenage boy stood at the register. A slow, stuttered, “Hi, I’m William!” tumbled out of his mouth. With those few words, we knew immediately William struggled with limited skills. The barista stood behind him, calmly encouraging… “Push the latte button… that’s right… now take her card… remember to thank her… good job, William!”.
With each new visit, I began to pay attention. Barista woman became “Miss Sarah”. William greeted me with a big grin-laced “Hi Sue!”. Miss Sarah continued to stay in the shadow and let William shine. One day, I finally pulled her aside and blurted out, “You’re amazing! How do you have such patience! William is so lucky to have you!”. She smiled shyly and went on to explain that their dance together was actually part of a hotel-sponsored program to train young autistic adults.
As the months passed, my register visits were met with a “Hi Sue… same order?” I began to notice an employee discount on my receipts. Miss Sarah often managed to slip a free refill on my table with a knowing nod and infectious smile. One day, I looked up to find her standing with a new trainee. “This is Leslie. You need to meet her! She’s a writer too!”. Not sure how my coffee sipping presence had morphed in to some kind of famous posture, but from her I joyfully received the accolade. . . and marveled, realizing she’d just managed to simultaneously affirm Leslie in the presence of another adult (me).
One day, after Chuck and I had lingered for a while on our now almost always free lattes, Miss Sarah stopped by our table to say hi. After once again lavishing praise on her amazingly gifted heart for people (especially the trainees), she shrugged her shoulders with a quiet, “Well. . . I just want everyone to know they are special!”. Exclaiming that we, indeed, were part of her “everyone”, an “only God” conversation unfolded. Chuck’s gentle coaching questions. Miss Sarah’s vulnerable responses… “I’m not a good student. I never went to college. I’m not a book learner. I love my job and want to do more”. We pondered together. Brainstormed possibilities. Sighed and then promised to pray God would open doors, encourage her vision and passion and remind her of her own gifted heart.
On the way home, I excitedly turned to Chuck. “I have to buy her a book…you know that children’s book You are Special? I have to!!”. I know those God nudges. I also know if I ponder for more than a few minutes, I’ll go “chicken” and not follow through. Later pressing the online “purchase” button, I thought, “I’m crazy or on track… but in any case, I’m in with both feet on this one!”
The next week, Chuck and I returned, wrapped package in hand. We pulled Miss Sarah aside. “We have a gift. It’s to encourage your vision to make everyone feel special”. Her eyes widened and with a tearful smile whispered, “Can I open it now?”. As the paper crumbled, she looked up with childlike wonder. “Thank you… can you sign it? I’m going to read it as soon as I get home!”. Feeling like a much undeserved star, I scribbled a prayerful greeting from both of us. After big hugs, she skipped (really!) back to serve another customer.
Just this week, I returned to the hotel. I felt my heart warm with the now settled routine. Miss Sarah and I exchanged smiles of affection. Without a word, she grabbed my “normal” cold brew with vanilla and a splash of cream. I handed her my credit card. She pushed it back. There’s a mutual understanding that debate won’t change anything! I asked a few questions of the new trainee Leslie and commended her good service. Miss Sarah nodded from the corner. I waved and pronounced, “You are my sunshine!”. Immediately, I heard “You are my rainbow!”.
I’m reminded often now to pay attention to the moments. Who is in front of me right now? How can I best acknowledge their presence? Do I truly “see” them? Do I see what makes them special? Will I dare to be bold through my fear and remind them? Can this be my 2020 posture every day… all day?
Lord, may you continue to show me the value and wonder of each person that crosses my path. Give me Your eyes to see beyond my human vision to the heart. Show me how to follow Miss Belinda in her passion to make everyone feel special and to know that God sees them as His own treasure.