I’ve been in Seattle for all of four days now and I’m basically a local now. *Confession, I am actually in Renton, a suburb of Seattle and about thirty minutes from downtown* In the past week, I have experienced a number of Pacific Northwest classics:
I went to the “first ever” Starbucks. (Turns out this wasn’t actually where the first one was located. Also, the coffee was average.)
Visited the flagship REI, managed not to buy anything. (Turns out everything is still just as expensive there).
Ate a chicken shish kabob and pita from Mr. D’s Greek Food at the Pikes Place market.
Went to a vintage guitar shop (apparently that’s a big thing here).
Ate salmon three times within the first 48 hours of being here.
Ran (jogged) up a peak at a place called Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park on a grey and rainy Saturday morning. Didn’t see any cougars.
Spent the afternoon at one of many local coffee shops.
Found more pride than I would have thought in telling people that I’m from Tennessee.
Okay so maybe I’m not actually a local, and maybe the fact that I think some of these things are Pacific Northwest classics makes me even less of a local. I know that there is a lot more to explore and a lot to learn. I don’t have a car yet so I’m mostly exploring the areas that I can reach on foot. While this has limited my range, it has also allowed me to become intimately acquainted with my surroundings. I am continually in awe of the towering evergreens that create such a beautiful landscape. I’m still settling in at the church, but have been graciously welcomed by some truly wonderful people. I am eager to see all that God has in store for me in my time at Highlands Community Church.
Today I am extremely grateful for God’s provision in my life, and for the extraordinary opportunities that He has given me. I’m missing home, family, friends, and my girlfriend (who is simultaneously living it up in Anchorage, Alaska!). But I know that He has called me here for the summer for a reason, and I aim to live out that calling to the best of my ability. I can’t wait to share this experience with all of you!
My graduation gown is hanging up in my closet, smushed between an old rain poncho and a blazer that is a few sizes too small. I worked tirelessly for four years to earn the right to wear that cap and gown, to walk across a stage, to shake the Chancellor’s hand, and to move a tassel from right to left. I graduated. It was awesome. We had a party. We took pictures. We celebrated. Today my graduation gown is hanging up in my closet. Now what?
I hope this doesn’t sound too bleak. Please don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely thrilled about graduation. College has been an absolutely incredible time of life, and I am grateful for the time that I spent at UTC. I worked hard. I learned a lot. I made extraordinary friends. I created precious memories. I grew. I struggled. I persevered. I lived in a crummy dorm for four years. I made it. I would not be the person that I am today were it not for these four years. When I walked across that stage on May 7th, I was genuinely proud of what I had accomplished and thankful for this sweet time I was given.
Yet, there is a strange feeling that comes with it. I have been a student for over 15 years now. For the large majority of my life, my primary role has been that of a student. And as excited as I am to finally close that chapter of my life, I somehow find myself slowly, hesitantly turning the last page. This was a good chapter. And I really don’t know a whole lot about the next one. Maybe I could just read this one over again. Do I really have to turn the page?
Usually when I read, I use chapters as stopping places. I understand that it is one continuous story, but each chapter break is a symbolic mark, a transition of sorts. It allows for events, ideas, and conversations to be lumped together and later reflected on. Oftentimes I will set the book down at each chapter and take a few moments to consider what I have read. When I start the next chapter, everything that I have read previously is floating around in my head. Events, ideas, conversations. They were very clearly part of an older chapter and may not be mentioned at all in this new part I am reading, but I do not forget them. More than that, they are molding and shaping how I interpret and understand every new page. The way that I perceive Chapter 8 is vitally influenced by what I experienced in Chapters 1-7. The legacy of the previous chapters lives on in the way they inform everything that is to come. On its own chapter 8 would seem random, arbitrary, and rather pointless. It is only significant within the larger story that it tells.
We are given two great gifts within this book of life. One is the fact that we are occasionally given sweet times of reflection at the close of each season or chapter. These times are rare and precious, and I urge you to make use of them. The second gift is that we are able to pick the book back up again and start a new chapter. We don’t start a new book, with all of the preceding chapters becoming irrelevant. No, we continue on. We are not defined by our past. But instead our future is guided by our past experiences. The lessons we learned, the relationships we formed, and the memories we made are all accounted for as we write a new chapter. They do not disappear and they cannot be undone. But they can be redeemed, reconsidered, or simply just reflected upon. I can not relive them, and they can never be more than a memory. Yet they will live on as they influence the chapters to come.
I cannot go back to college. It is not possible to flip back to that section of the book when I am an even-scrawnier-than-now freshman, nervously finding his way at a public university. I can’t relive or even replicate the late night conversations with roommates, the long hours in the library with friends, the early morning bible studies, the tests and papers that kept me on my toes, or the legendary intramural games. These memories have shaped and molded me. The lessons I have learned and the ways that I have grown in the last four years will guide me as I navigate the next four.
College was spectacular, challenging, joyful, and unique. I will never be able to experience a time like this again. Sure, there is a certain level of sadness that comes with this fact, but I know that it is good and right. When I was 9 years old and my parents told me that we were moving away from the Pacific Northwest, I was devastated. But I remember someone saying, “It’s okay, you can’t write a book with only one chapter.” It is as true now as it was then. So instead of mourning the end of an extraordinary chapter, I eagerly await the start of a new one. It is not with fear and trepidation, but with joy and enthusiasm that I ask: now what?
This morning I worked my last shift at Cadence Coffee Company. I have been a barista there for almost two years and it has been a truly special experience. This morning I couldn’t bring myself to clock out until nearly two hours after my original shift was over. It is hard to explain why Cadence has meant so much to me over the past couple of years. First off, I love coffee and have had the opportunity to serve it to some incredible people. Secondly, I have some phenomenal friendships and memories that I have formed during my time there. I have been blessed with both customers and coworkers who made it a genuine pleasure to be at work before the sun was up. Thank you. Third, I believe that I am a better person because of my time at Cadence. I learned and grew a lot. I want to share just a few of the many things I have learned while working behind the bar.
1) Everybody has a story. Whether its the homeless guy who sleeps in the alley around the corner, or the high power attorney who stops by on his way to the courthouse, every person who walks through the doors has a unique story to tell. And more than simply having a story to tell, many of them want it to be heard. There’s something about a warm cup of coffee and a bar stool that just makes people want to talk. I have had opportunities to minister and be ministered to. I have prayed and been prayed for. Whether it be stories about their own college days, insight into current events, or simply talking about their day, I am grateful to the men and women from all walks of life who have, even if just for a brief moment each morning, invited me into their story. This town is full of some fascinating people, and I like to think that Cadence specializes in gathering fascinating people to create quality community. 2) A smile goes a long way. The only thing that helps break barriers and build relationships more than a delicious cup of coffee is a warm smile. Either from me, or the customer. It has been such a joy to see people come dragging in to the shop, still waking up for the day, and to see them slowly, often hesitantly, break into a smile as their piping hot beverage was slid across the counter accompanied by a smile. On the other side of things, there have been countless mornings when I have been struggling through the shift, only to be encouraged and uplifted by the contagious grins of some of our most cheerful and faithful customers. I am grateful for the joy and connection that occurs in those seemingly insignificant moments. 3) Sometimes its easier to remember someone’s drink order than their name. “Oh hey decaf latte with soy milk and two pumps of vanilla, good to see you today.” “Good morning large dark roast with no room for cream, thanks for coming in.” 4) But its still important to learn people’s names. When I first started working at Cadence I remember somebody describing the atmosphere that they hoped to create as being similar to the TV show “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name. Since that day I have worked hard to do my best to help that become a reality. While people do appreciate you knowing their order and having it started when they walk in the door, I think what they appreciate even more is the barista saying, “Hey [Insert awesome regular here], how are you doing today?” It creates an instant connection and deeper bond that contributes to this unique community. 5) Cadence is marked by a continual display of generosity. Cadence has a really awesome thing going for it in its Pay it Forward program. This allows customers to buy cups of coffee for people who may not always be able to afford one. The idea is that anyone, at any time, should be able to walk into Cadence and, if nothing else, be able to enjoy a good cup of coffee. It is a lofty idea, and it simply would not work without the everyday generosity of customers who choose to pay it forward. Additionally, I have seen incredible generosity through the kindhearted owner, Shannon Greer. Shannon is generous with both his time and resources, going out of his way to help anyone that he encounters. Every day, countless people approach Shannon with needs, wants, and requests, and he addresses them all with exceptional grace. Shannon has also been incredibly generous with the space at Cadence. He allowed my fraternity to host multiple worship nights that proved to be powerful moments for our campus community. His time and resources are limited and finite, but he will always go out of his way to meet people’s needs in whatever way possible, even if it is as simple as praying with them. I am thankful to have worked under this model of generosity. Finally, I would be remiss to not mention the volunteers who give generously of their time to support the mission of Cadence. It is not a glamours position, and yet numerous individuals show up week in and week out to help Cadence run smoothly, simply because they believe in its mission. These volunteers have personally helped me by providing support in hectic times and being willing to do anything and everything they can to help out. I have seen them work tirelessly, going above and beyond what is asked of them, and displaying an awe inspiring work ethic. 6) Coffee is special. This is probably not a secret to many people. Coffee is great. It’s delicious, energizing, and comforting. But there is something really special about its ability to bring people together. Coffee is more than a great drink. It is an experience. It is a community builder. It is an equalizer. It is an excuse for conversation. Whenever I make plans with someone to “get a cup of coffee,” very rarely do I think much of the coffee when anticipating these plans. Getting a cup of coffee is sometimes just an easy way to say, “Hey, let’s hang out and talk for an extended period of time.” In that sense, coffee is really kind of arbitrary. And yet, for some reason people continue to make plans around coffee specifically. Yes, there is something special about coffee. I really don’t know if I can explain it. Yet, if you have ever sat down across a table from someone you care about, with nothing between you but two ceramic mugs, you know exactly what I am talking about. Its special. Coffee is special. Cadence is a special place. I am extremely fortunate to have spent so much time there. I am grateful for all of the coffee I drank/made, the people I met, and the memories shared. Perhaps most of all, I am thankful for the unique perspectives that I gained from a year and a half behind the bar.
Today I finished college. For two hours, I wrote everything I knew about Sub-Saharan African History. I gave the professor my blue book, packed my bags, and for the last time, I walked out of Brock Hall. I halfway expected Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” to start blaring over a loudspeaker in the sky. “School’s out for summer. School’s out forever.” Nope, I unceremoniously walked up Cardiac Hill and back to my dorm in Lockmiller. A familiar walk. Today it was different. And yet, it was exactly the same.
Today I finished college. On Saturday I graduate. On Sunday, college will be over, and life will go on. I’ve struggled to think of words to say that could perfectly commemorate this special time. I have none.
Today I finished college. This weekend I get to celebrate that with some of my best friends, some of whom I have walked through life with for over ten years, and some who I met in the last 6 months. When I look around at the people that have been through this journey with me, I cannot help but to think of how gracious God has been to me.
Today I finished college. Later this month I will hop on a plane and move to Seattle for the summer, where I get to be an intern at an awesome church and serve alongside one of my best and oldest friends.
Today I finished college. This fall, I will be in Knoxville, TN. I will be 99 miles closer to my incredible girlfriend. I have been given an opportunity to serve at another wonderful church as a middle school intern, a challenge that I await with eager expectation.
The Lord has been so good to me. Not because I believe that he has showered me with blessings for being a “good” Christian. But because repeatedly, through the people around me and the opportunities I have been given, He has showered me with grace amidst all of my failures. I am so undeserving, and He is so merciful. My prayer is that when the blessings do not seem so abundant, that I would continue to look at the Father who loves me and know that he is so merciful, and gracious, and good.
I am sure there are more reflections to come. But for right now, this is where I am. Today I finished college.