Sirens and Souls

As the guy behind the counter of a little coffee shop in a quaint Texas town, I get a unique view not only through the big glass front windows, but also into the lives of everyday quaint town Texans. More often than not, looking outward leads to reflecting inward.

When we first moved in and lived in what is now the art studio, Ilya had just turned three. With the excitement of a child, she insisted her bed be right below the middle upstairs window so she could see the firetruck when it drove by. No matter what time of night or morning, when she heard the sirens from the ambulance or firetruck, her head would pop up and she’d push the curtain aside to see the first responders in action. Eventually, many of them made a point to wave to their biggest fan on the second floor.

“Engine 4,” she would announce, and we’d make it a point to pray for them and those who they were saving.

When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she’d say, “a firetruck.”

We’d even sit outside and tell firetruck stories, giving me a chance to talk about all ways fires can get started – from knocking over candles to people throwing cigarettes out the window. The superheroes with the hose and ladder always came to save the day.

From our windows we have heard the sirens and seen the rescue vehicles whiz by daily en route to answer a call. Hundreds of times since we’ve been here. We’ve learned their schedule is busier on the highway every time it rains. We’ve gotten good at guessing how bad a grass fire is based on how many respond and how fast they are driving. And when the EMS beats the fire trucks out the door, we know to take a deep breath and pray for even the families of those involved.

Even though Ilya now wants to be a zoo veterinarian, I am thankful she has had these windows to look through and understand the role of first responders in a community. All of my life, I’ve lived farther away from the stations, and only visited them on an occasional school field trip.

Looking back on these memories makes me realize that seeing the emergency vehicles through the windows was not only influential for Ilya, but also for me. Knowing that there are people willing to put their life on the line every day for others is powerful. Getting to know the people in the uniforms is even more so – everyday people, just with the training, equipment, courage, and selfless sense of duty comparable to fictional comic heroes like Batman.

I like to think I would save someone if the situation arose, and I would probably try. But I’m not trained for special circumstances or have the jaws of life, hose, ladder, or other equipment that make the saving possible. Perhaps I can say I save lives by providing coffee and food for your co-worker or spouse. Undeniably, I am not at the level of lifesaver as our first responders. There is something special about these people, and like you, am deeply thankful for them.

Imagining the community without these teams of individuals, I picture a lot of unnecessary pain, loss, and danger. I envisage fires growing out of control, minor health problems that lead to death, and accidents that only cause other people to crash as well. And my mind took a turn from town infrastructure to the deeper connections of personal and spiritual community.

When there is a small fire in your relationship, is there someone to call? When the harsh realities of life hit you like a freight train, is there someone there to pry you out and see to your rest and recovery? When you are at your weakest and you catch a hard case of depression, anxiety, or anger and it knocks you to the floor, is there someone a button away to ensure it doesn’t kill your spirit?

I, like many of you, recognize I am fortunate to have a close family and well-knit church that is a quick phone call away. They will respond with encouragement, consul, and even correction – and they will speed to my side with the sirens on.

Is it not logical that those without access to emergency responders are more likely to suffer more, lose more in a fire, and even risk death? Our society ensures physical access to such help. But spiritually, there are many out there with no one to call in the time of need.

From the counter, serving coffee, I have had customers rush out before their order to assist a friend in despair. One customer broke down in tears as she got off the phone with her doctor, finding out she had cancer. Her friends consoled her with their presence. Countless friends have met up at a table to discuss a nagging problem over a hot cup of tea. I’ve seen the progression of recovering addicts over time, and the deterioration of those whose fire has grown to large, too fast. Our societal infrastructure is a poignant metaphor for our spiritual connectedness.

The next time you meet a local superhero, be sure to say thanks. The next time you see a fire truck from your window, or hear the sirens of an ambulance, give a call to the person who is your first responder and thank them for being there for you. And the next time you cross paths with someone who seems like their life is leading to a wreck, consider giving them your number – because even though you don’t have the training or the equipment, you never know when you’ll have the chance to be a hero, too.

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Saints and Silhouettes

As the guy behind the counter of a little coffee shop in a quaint Texas town, I get a unique view not only through the big glass front windows, but also into the lives of everyday quaint town Texans. More often than not, looking outward leads to reflecting inward.

As the westward leaning sun stretches the shadows to the street, there is a certain time where it seems dark inside compared to the brightly reflecting sidewalks and buildings. It is at this time that many silhouettes have walked in the front doors, greeted with a general “Good afternoon!” It is not until after they have stepped out of the radiance that we can discern the face. If it is a familiar friend, there is usually an “Oh, hello! I couldn’t tell it was you.”

It was one of those bright afternoons. We were wrapping up a conversation with some regulars and, as they opened the door to leave, I punctuated our fleeting conversation with a simple, “Give it to God.” Not being able to see a man who had entered and stood in the light, I was caught off guard with an empirical “Amen!”

After welcoming the familiar stranger as he stepped forward into a new conversation, we learned his name was St. John. As the deeply religious and peaceful man was about to carry on down the road, I could not help but ask, “One more question, St. John. Are you a saint?”

“Of sorts,” he replied with uplifted lips and wise eyes. Exiting into the luminescence, he turned back and added, “You never know who is going to walk through the doors.”

We happen to be studying the Gospel of St. John in church, so the interaction seemed peculiarly anointed. My wife and I looked at each other and reflected on the meaning of his statement, “You never know who is going to walk through the doors.” Was he really a saint? An angel? A regular guy on the road who knew how to mess with our heads? Jesus? A guy who walks around giving millions to unsuspecting small business owners?

But it was true, you would be surprised who all has come through little old Cisco, Texas. We have fed and refreshed rock bands on their way to SXSW or passing through on tour, British Parliamentarians, the Crockin’ Girls, writers, and who knows who we didn’t recognize! Wouldn’t it be amazing for hometown hero Dash Crofts to walk out of the afternoon light and pick up my guitar as a hummingbird flits by on the summer breeze?

Well, it wasn’t Dash or Willie that came through the doors the very next day, but another person I only dreamed about sharing our windows’ view of Cisco with. A traveling woman accidentally stopped off the highway in Cisco and was sent downtown by a kind and thoughtful cashier at the Flying J. And in through our doors walks the executive editor of Texas Monthly. You never know who is going to walk through the doors, and even when they do, you don’t know who they are sometimes, or who they represent. When I found out she was the face of the magazine that taught me as a kid how amazing our state is, I turned into that excited kid and blabbed her ear off about how wonderful Cisco is.

St. John’s advice is wisdom to do business by. You never know when a food critic, a person who rates restaurants on Yelp or Trip Advisor, a famous musician (or even one who will be in the coming years), politician, or other type of celebrity will walk in. Serve them all excellence. Treat them all like royalty, so that when royalty walks in, they feel at home.

But there is something that feels, in the way that intuition pricks and prods, just a little off about that. In worldly ways, we like the attention, and it is really fun serving people of worldly importance. In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus is not striving for five stars. He strove to serve Truth, knowing that many people have no taste for such food. He did not position himself for a great write up in the history books, but rather to change the history of individuals, families, and the patterns of their faithful lives. I cannot imagine Jesus traveling out of his way to sit down and sing psalms with the greatest rocker of his time. I can picture his joy at broken hearts healing, the weak becoming strong, the lost becoming found – and the songs that overflow from such miracles.

St. John’s advice is wisdom to live life by. Treat everyone like royalty, not because they might be, but because the way God made us, each of us are made to be. Perhaps sometimes we just need to be an anonymous silhouette for a moment as the table is being set, before we sit down to break bread.

After coming to the conclusion that our friendly saint was not reminding us that anyone could be a celebrity or critic, but that everyone that comes through that door IS a celebrity to us – another lady walks in. This woman was from Puerto Rico and had a rich accent and great posture. As she entertained me by allowing me to practice my conversational Spanish, she dropped my jaw when she said in her native tongue, “Nunca se sabe quien viene a traves de tu puerta.” Assuming I didn’t understand, she repeated in English, “You never know who is going to come through your door.”

I smiled, thinking of everyone who I see on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. “Yes I do. You came through my door, and that’s really all that matters.”

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Waverly’s: The Story of a Family, Faith, and a Coffee Shop

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So I wrote a book.  I’m not great at self promotion, but it was worth writing down if it makes just one person challenge the default setting of work, family, and faith.  It is the story of one tile on a grand mosaic, how we understand the larger mystery of God by inquiring into the tidbits and glimpses we are allowed.

The book also includes recipes that we use in the store, including the chicken salad and easy ways to replicate our homemade syrups.

It is available in our store, or online via Amazon.com.  You can search in the site for it (“Waverly’s coffee,”  “Waverly’s Sean Grose,” etc.) or by the link below.  You can also get it in digital format for your Kindle.

Click here for the Amazon link.

I do hope you enjoy!

 

 

 

Routines and Rituals

 

As the guy behind the counter of a little coffee shop in a quaint Texas town, I get a unique view not only through the big glass front windows, but also into the lives of everyday quaint town Texans. More often than not, looking outward leads to reflecting inward.

When the white pickup is waiting out front at sunrise for the open sign to flip on, I know Jessica’s baby Reid Luke probably didn’t sleep well and she needs a coffee for the commute. It’s Thursday, so I rush to get the blueberry pecan scones in for Sheila. At around a quarter to eight, Jimmy pulls in across the street at the same time Kasity and Ilya start their walk to school. I know it’s eight when John pulls in next door, and the Williamsons will soon be walking Hushpuppy in their morning routine.

Whether you’re in a small town or a big city, any store windows will witness many of the same daily pulses. The danger with routines, though, is that the more we go through the motion, the more we are going through the motions. If I have learned anything in life, it is that every moment is precious, as we are not promised another. If I die doing dishes, I don’t want my last thought to be, “I should have enjoyed washing the pots a little more.” When tasks become routine, our consciousness turns to an almost mindless autopilot.

But routines are unavoidable and necessary. Mindlessness is not. Here’s a thought: what is the difference between a routine and a ritual? A routine is strictly related to schedule, and is mostly the small, seemingly insignificant, and least exciting tasks that we do over and over. We have daily routines: getting dressed, morning tasks, getting to and from work, preparing supper, doing laundry, and washing dishes among many other duties.

Then there are less frequent but equally necessary obligations. Routine maintenance on the car, Spring and Fall cleaning, grocery shopping, looking over budget and finances, organizing the desk, and numerous other chores.

We do these things because if we don’t, life piles up or falls apart. Essentially, it’s less work to do it now than pretend like we don’t have to. If we pretend our car doesn’t need an oil change, it breaks down. If we convince ourselves it’s easier to let the dishes pile up for weeks, we’ll end up cleaning them anyway, just with a case of steel wool and special gloves that mice can’t bite through. If we don’t budget and keep track of finances, we end up spending more than what we have and there goes vacation dreams. We do these things because we have to.

And if we have to, is there a way to enjoy them?

Changing subjects without changing subject, when you hear the word ritual, you most likely start thinking along the lines of religion. Communion, prayer, tithing, hymns, and Sunday donuts are all familiar rituals in many churches. Can church become a routine? Sure. The difference between ritual and routine is this: though a routine is a task done repeatedly, a ritual has special meaning, spiritual value, and mindfulness. Your external world becomes chaos when routines are not kept. Your internal world falls apart when rituals are neglected.

So, how do we enjoy the mundane? We turn routines into rituals. Take dishes, for example. Have too much dish time, and too little prayer time?  With the first dish, “Lord, thank you for the reason I have these dishes. . .” From then on, each dish you wash, recite something or someone else you are thankful for. By the end of the pile of dishes, you will be looking for more because you haven’t run out of things you am thankful for.

Too little time to read your Bible? Stuck at the mechanic? Take your Bible, or some postcards to reach out to ones you love. Folding laundry? Put on some hymns and sing along. Mindless commute? Find a podcast of a favorite speaker (Ravi Zacharias is one of my regulars). Dreading the budget? Think of a project or family you would love to bless, then look for ways to save so you can enjoy the gift of giving.

There is no problem too big or routine too small for an ounce of mindful intentionality. Every routine we have has a underlying metaphor for our spirit. Let our world, both around us and within us, not fall apart. Let our routines find meaning in ritual, and let our rituals not become routine.

(And if you’ve found one last fork and you’ve already drained the sink, leave it as a reminder that the dishes are never really done, just as there is always something else to be thankful for). From the windows of Waverly’s, we are thankful for you.

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Crumbs, Checkers, Cars, and Critics

From the Windows of Waverly’s

As the guy behind the counter of a little coffee shop in a quaint Texas town, I get a unique view not only through the big glass windows, but also into the lives of everyday quaint town Texans.  Sometimes that view and those Texans teach me a little something about me.

After a crowd leaves, I walk around the counter to clean the crumbs from the newly made checker tables. So many people compliment them, but few actually play. As I sit to think of ways to remind people we have checker pieces they can check out, I may make a mental note to challenge my daughter after she returns from school, or as I often do, I may gaze out the window and wander a ponder. As cars drive by, I play my own game of sorts.

“That’s Mamma Tank . . . Don’t know them . . . Don’t know them . . . John, be careful with that U-turn . . . Ooh, customer . . . Nope, just reading the sign. . . There’s oh, what’s their name . . .”

Drivers are mostly in their own world, as I am in mine. Some are visibly impatient at the light, many are talking on their phone. Some people are looking out their own windows – I wonder what they are thinking. Many cars I recognize from living three years in a small town, but we get a lot of travelers through, as well. Each driver has their story, and passing by the windows of Waverly’s is a mere geographical coincidence.

Some drivers do pull in with the intent of getting some food, drinks or a birthday gift, and I hop up ready to serve. This is where the stories from inside the car windows overlap with the story within ours.

Almost every person who has walked through the doors has been pleasant, gracious, and genuine. Most customers are now friends, and many have become family – all have been patient when we are slow, understanding when we mess up, and polite when they aren’t 100% satisfied. But occasionally we get a group that, without their own awareness, are probably leaving upset no matter what happens (and we’ll always try to make it a smile). It is these types that, if they leave a one star review on Yelp!, if you look at their profile, they’ve left quite a few.

It may just be a coincidence, but merely from my observation from my little corner of the world, most of these come from the city. These types are not used to participating in a story, they just want their food. They aren’t used to a place not having 20 different condiments, having to wait a few minutes for something that doesn’t resemble fast food, or a place running out of something due to a particularly busy day (we try not to). They have their way of talking down to food service workers, and have a general air of entitlement. You know the type?

So how did the column get from watching cars to griping about the inevitable irksome customer? Ego. Our egos are very much like the windows of our cars and our homes. We watch the world as it is, and really only have control of what goes on inside them. When we have made our little world tidy, our ego is proud and rests easy. But when we let others in, it makes us vulnerable.

Ultimately, ego is what drives financial success in cities. Restaurants cater to ego in cities because ego is what drives financial success in cities. I just want us all to be created equal in the sight of God, and for us to treat each other as such – which is what this small town is good at recognizing and practicing.

Here’s the catch. Why does it drive me so crazy when an entitled person talks down to me? Don’t they know I have degrees!? Why do I get upset when someone won’t eat Meunster on their grilled cheese or red onions on their roast beef? Don’t they know that’s the best way?! Why do I bite my tongue when I don’t have some random sugar or sauce that only one other person in the history of history has asked for? Oh. Ego.

When we let others into our home, into our lives, into our shops or our cars, we become vulnerable. When you humble, kind, generous, and loving people walk into our doors, it is so easy for us to return the vibe. But our true colors, our true faith, and the truth of our own egos shows when someone comes in who makes it difficult to sustain the good vibe.

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:7-8

It is easy to reflect goodness back to good people. It is our own pride that is measured by how we react to those who are prideful. It is easy to be on the same level as someone who sees themselves as on the same level. But when someone acts better than another, our own egos make it a competition, where we self justify tearing the other down.

Let us not play that game. Let’s play checkers instead.

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The Red Tree

From the Windows of Waverly’s

As the guy behind the counter of a little coffee shop in a quaint Texas town, I get a unique view not only through the big glass windows, but also into the lives of everyday quaint town Texans.

Directly across the street from Waverly’s is a business run by some of the most festive and decorative people I have ever met. At Campbell’s Insurance, Dennis and Janelle tend to a blanket of bluebonnets in the spring which turns into a garden of Eden in the heat of summer. Fall sees the couple staking scarecrows and stacking pumpkins before the cold spells call the Santas and the early darkness needs the Christmas lights.

You may hear of Janelle coordinating with the FFA , Scouts, or community for a Keep Cisco Beautiful project, or see Dennis routinely picking up trash along the sidewalks. Every season of every year I am impressed and thankful for the Campbell’s standards and efforts. This year in particular, the tree that shades the entrance of their business has held a brilliant orange and red hue for weeks. I have always found myself looking out the windows and thinking, “boy, what a special and beautiful town we live in,” but the past few weeks the painted tree has mesmerized me. How picturesque. If only I were Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkade.

As I was sweeping just the other day, admiring the view, I had a thought and set the broom aside, opened the door and stepped outside. Across the street, I sought the answer to my thought: what do my neighbors see from their windows?

Oh. We could sure use some more Christmas lights. I should probably clean those grooved leaded windows that have been gathering dust for decades. That temporary painted message on the window sure could be taken off or updated. My plants are dead. There is some paint peeling in a fairly obvious place. I never knocked down that giant wasp nest that formed last summer.

Oh.

My neighbors probably don’t wish they were Norman Rockwell. Martha Stewart maybe, but I realized that just because the view from my windows was beautiful does not mean everyone’s is (especially embarrassing when it’s the windows facing me!). Okay, I’ll bump up the beautification of our store front on the priority list, but first I want to reflect on the deeper application of this simple realization.

When our spirit is well tended, well watered, and we are obviously proud of the gift of life that God gave us (and the body in which we live), those around us cannot help but soak it in. You know those people, the ones that just being around them makes you feel comfortable and happy. But just because we are around them does not mean we are one. Just because I’m the Campbell’s neighbor does not mean I belong on their postcard.

Tending to our spirit is as important as keeping a storefront clean and appealing. Not just for ourselves, but because it is contagious. Dennis and Janelle’s community mindedness has not only rubbed off on those around them, but have also made others of like mind feel at home.

Can you imagine if you and a few others you are close to invested in the well being of your inner being? Planting seeds of wisdom, kneeling and sowing in prayer? Hanging lights of hope on the darkest of days and celebrating the seasons that are our lives? Who knows, maybe you’ll just make the people around you enjoy being around you as much as I enjoy looking across the street. But perhaps (and it is likely) that as time passes they may put down the broom of their routines, step outside themselves, and not just be impressed by their surroundings, but be inspired.

We are a community, and we are more than the structures that surround us. Although Dennis and Janelle would argue that they are not such a force of cause (especially without mentioning the many others involved), I do know they would agree that a healthy heart can’t help but overflow into the world around it.

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Stoplights and Storefronts

From the Windows of Waverly’s

As the guy behind the counter of a little coffee shop in a quaint Texas town, I get a unique view not only through the big glass windows, but also into the lives of everyday quaint town Texans.

During the slow times, I find myself looking out those big windows facing the main road, reflecting on the reality we find ourselves in. The past few weeks, I’ve been noticing the cars at the stoplight a half block up. When we moved here three years ago, if the stoplight held up two or three cars, my wife Kasity would say, “It’s a busy day in Cisco.”

As the years have passed, though, the line of cars has increased, and sometimes stretches the entire block. Whether there is a larger pattern that brings more traffic through Cisco, or it is all the flowers, plants, and new storefronts that brings people north to the heart of downtown, we have seen an increase in traffic. It makes us smile.

But sometimes I find myself in the car at the end of the line as the light turns red. Part of me is tempted to exhale a grunt at the apparent bad luck of having to wait. But then I remember how much of my life was spent at stoplights in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Austin. One light might turn green three times and I’d still be a green away from my turn through. In Austin, I lived three miles from work, and it took about 45 minutes to get up Lamar.

Stoplights in Cisco are nothing to get impatient about. In fact, it’s a great opportunity to look out the window and observe the constant changes, read the business’ chalkboards up and down the street, or just take a deep breath and appreciate being exempt from the big city’s rat race gridlock.

If you find yourself stopped in front of Waverly’s, know that there is a guy behind the counter in there praying for you in your short wait, and hoping you read the phrase in steel letters just above the arched doors. It’s a beautiful day.

Sight and Perception

“It is always nice to see you,” I say to a regular customer as I take his plate after a good late afternoon lunch. “It is always nice to perceive you,” he replies as his seeing-eye dog stands to attention and readies for the door.

Not quite young, not quite old, I find myself in Cisco. I find myself every day, hoping not to get lost again in the daily-ness of hours. Fascinating things happen, conversations stir souls – and I cannot help but wonder: have these things been happening every day of my life or is it something magical about our little coffee shop?

Part of me wants to believe the shop is a mystical oasis where magic happens, but deep inside I know that life provides equal mystery and miracle every day (whether we notice it or not). This is the difference between sight and perception. Our eyes and brain are trained to acclimate to things that do not change. But what happens when you look at a miracle every day? Does it become ordinary? A beautiful diamond – does it become another rock? A beautiful wife? Growing child?

When we first moved here three years ago, we heard it time and time again that Cisco  was just a dried up little town – mostly by people who have lived here for a long time. I beg to disagree.

What a quaint place it is, with individuals volunteering time and energy to getting lights up downtown, putting out scarecrows, decorating their houses for Halloween and Christmas. Every other person we meet seems to be fixing up an old house, and if they are not they are likely a shy musician, published poet, or creative artist. Local business-people compete honestly with the surrounding corporations, and the populace seems sensitive to the importance of supporting their neighbors. Not only are the public schools known for excellence, but the community also has outlets for quality pre-schools and college.

Are you starting to question the long held belief that it is a dried up town? Brief illusion of a change of subject: what happens to your lawn after not watering it through a dry spell? It dies. No – more than likely it merely goes dormant. Dormant grass comes back much stronger than if you offer even sparsely regular watering.

Having fresh eyes, and being somewhat in the middle of town talk, I can tell you that there is a sleeping giant within this town. Between the forward thinking entrepreneurs and the business savvy at the Economic Development Corporation, Cisco is becoming a poster child for small towns trying to find themselves again.

We have a rich history here that goes far beyond the limelight of Conrad Hilton – and if you have not visited the museum in the old Mobley (or the one in the old City Hall) it would be worth your while to set a Saturday aside to enrich your awareness of local heritage. Innovation, artistry, music, and unique businesses are part of Cisco’s tradition, and each are alive and well today.

So, if you’re reading this with your usual eyes in your usual spot with your usual mind, I pray you walk to the window and look outside. There is an amazing world outside with extraordinary things going on. Miracles walk by regularly, and soul stirring conversations are waiting to be invited out.

Our lives may remain unchanged in these instances, but that does not mean our eyes do not need a good rubbing. I will be here watching Cisco from the windows of Waverly’s, and I look forward to perceiving you.