Thursday, March 02, 2006


It’s Tuesday afternoon, and I find myself unexpectedly with an open hour, close enough to my children’s school that it makes no sense to go home. I consider my options: it’s too cold to merely sit in a parking lot and wait the time out. And then it comes to me: my favorite Starbucks is merely five minutes away! Should I spend the money? Should I consume more caffeine? I remembered tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and my husband and I are giving up sugar and dairy products for two weeks, to begin the Lenten season. And that seals it: yes, caffeine, with milk and sugar.

I fully recognize that Starbucks can be completely annoying, and this Starbucks, especially, can be completely annoying. But it has saved my life a few times, too, a living room that is not my living room, with no one needing me. Last week, I read a book there, cover to cover, without moving except for my friendly barrister putting up the chairs around me near closing time.

“Do I need to move?” I asked.

“Nah, not til you get to the last page,” he answered. “How close are you?”

“Three pages,” I answered.

“No problem. Read on.” This is the guy I see here on his day off, too, working his way through graduate school at the seminary down the road. We’ve discussed Kierkegaard—we are like old pals, now.

This Starbucks can be a little strange, as it is often populated with seminary students. It is not unusual to overhear students preparing sermons, holding a Bible study, praying out loud in that earnest evangelical way. It’s endearing and somewhat homey to me, as I have some seminary coursework and spiritual focus in my background. And it’s a little weird, when contrasted with most conversations at most Starbucks, which I think are unlikely to be centered on subjects of theology, nine days out of ten.

So I walk in, and miraculously, there are seats available. I order a giant caramel macchiato in a mug, and just as the barrister calls my name, the cushy seats by the fireplace open up. And just as I sit down with my steaming mug, and pull out my journal to note some notes, Aretha Franklin begins playing on the sound system, “You’re a no-good heart-breaker,” All this and Aretha, too? If God was pleading with us to return to him, he would sound like Aretha, like we are no-good heart-breakers that he cannot bear to lose. That’s my kind of theology, the kind I feel in my bones.

Did they know I was coming? Did they know I needed respite, power, caffeine and the breath of the Holy Spirit? “Kiss me once again my darlin’, don’t you never, never say that we’re through, I ain’t never… never… never loved a man the way that I, I love you.”

I put away my journal, my pen, my reading glasses and prop my feet up by the fire. I close my eyes and skip all pretense of doing anything constructive, and sip my coffee slowly and deliberately, meditating on one pleasure after another, sweetness, darkness, bitterness, warmth, gifts, and my favorite thing about Starbucks: the feeling that I am utterly unnecessary to the functioning of the world, for a few lovely moments. My only work is not to sing along at the top of my lungs, for the sake of other customers.

“You really know this song,” the barrister-Kierkegaard fella says.

“Aretha,” I say, shaking my head.

“It’s a soul mix,” he says. So it is, for me, too.  


Cheryl said...

How often I too have enjoyed those moments of "serendipity"--the best ones are those God provides. The other night I was watching the last segment of Charles Dickens' "Bleak House" on PBS' Masterpiece Theater. While visiting the grave of his wife, Sir Lester says, "If only she knew just how much I loved her, and how little I cared for what others might say about her." And God spoke to my own heart and said, "If only you knew. . ."

tomzgrrl said...

Your blog is what I wish mine were! LOVE your way of thinking, way of expressing yourself, way of making ME think! For Lent, I was going to give up the slight mocking of my in-laws that is my way of life when I discuss them to my mom and DH. But MIL's niece just got arrested and has a Pandora's box of stuff going on that I get to watch them handle. So I decided to give up adding salt to my food instead. How bad of a person am I?

Denise said...

Thank you for the compliment-- I said something similar to another blogger last week. (and I'll tell you who it is, if you are interested...)

I wonder, sometimes, if wit isn't the best survival tool for family living-- but then, I've not been accused of gentleness, lately or ever. My bite is pretty severe, I'm afraid.

I'm more curious, in a Lenten way, of what it means to transform, versus "give up." Scott and I are hoping to transform to our former sizes-- that's not too deep-- but if we feel better, who knows what else we might tackle? So the question would be, for me, is there a way to tranform wit, that survival-sharpness, to good use? Or is it okay enough to use it for blowing off steam (and it might be).

I say you were brave to consider it. And good luck with the salt.

tomzgrrl said...

Please share which blog inspires you! I agree that humor is what makes so much of family liveable -- and I should clarify that the subtle mocking is also done of my own sibling dramas -- I only considered giving up the in-law portion because I'm a realist! Day 4 of no salt! (We also, in Lent, seek to transform something -- usually I give up secular radio in favor of Christian radio at least one day a week because of the immediate change in my spirit and the closeness I feel to God by listening to His messages during my car time! I tried "no radio" and my busy humming mind doesn't work that way!)

Denise said...

I think you are lucky if Christian radio makes you feel closer to God. I'm afraid it only makes me deeply cynical-- with a few exceptions.

I was thinking about what you said when I wrote the post today--feeling a bit non-traditional...

The blog I admire belongs to Lara at,if I have that right. You could spend about a year there, I think, wonderful. I'm so new to this-- it will be fun to find more.