Now serving: being an example

The first full week of the new year is scary. It’s a no excuses kind of day. There will be no days off, no more blaming the holidays for a foggy head and disrupted schedule. The implications of the choices of the last month come crashing in. What you did and what you put off doing. What you bought and what you put off buying. What you charged to a credit card and what you charged to the future.

“Are you ready to order?” Tim said.

I looked up, a little startled. I realized that I was standing at the counter at Lystra Tea. From the way Tim was looking at me, I had been standing there for awhile.

“Sorry,” I said. “Medium bold.”

He took my travel mug, warmed it, filled it, and then poured more into two Lystra Tea mugs.

“That seemed like a really hard decision for you,” Tim said. “And yet you almost always order the same thing: not the large, not the small, but the medium.”

I laughed. “And I always choose the bold.”

“But only after you consider all the options,” Tim said. “Why do you struggle with making a choice that only you will care about?”

“I’m making an investment of time and money. I want to be sure that it is what I really want. If I don’t like it, it feels like a waste. And I would be bothered, and I would feel like I squandered something.”

“Really?” Tim said. “You feel so much burden about the coffee that you drink?”

I shrugged. When he said it that way, it did sound a little silly. But so many people pay so much attention to the details of coffee. Origins, grind, fairness to the growers, quality of the water.

“But don’t you actually know the taste that you like?” Tim interrupted my thoughts. “Why do you feel the need to justify what you are drinking?”

I was starting to build my argument explaining why it mattered when he held up his hand.

“I’m not picking on you,” he said. “I understand. I’ve always been aware of symbolism, of what actions and choices and beliefs and demographics mean. For example, at one point in my life, I was the youngest leader in the room. I’d gotten the job because my mentor picked me, But I wasn’t from the community. I didn’t have the right training. I didn’t have the presence that my boss had. I felt completely uncertain.”

I understood completely. I once described myself as a “perpetual novice”, always feeling like I was having to learn everything over again.

“So what do you do?” I asked. “How do you handle feeling like the under-equipped one in charge?”

“I’m not sure that I ever completely resolved it,” Tim said. “But I’ve worked hard at following what my mentor told me. ‘Don’t let them get away with focusing on your age,’ he said. ‘Instead, give them an example of what your message means. In the way you talk, in the way you behave, in the way you love and believe and engage with others, offer the evidence that our beliefs actually change us.’”

“That sounds hard,” I said.

Tim laughed as took the last swallow of his coffee.

“It is hard,” he said. “It’s much harder than worrying about whether you will like the flavor of your coffee. But if you want to help people in difficult situations, you have be able to show them that you have been helped, too. You can’t tell people to love unless you love them. You can’t demand respect until you offer respect. You can’t say that God will give us strength unless you rest in that strength yourself.”

I finished the coffee in my cup and picked up my travel mug.

“I hope this bold gets me through the day,” I said.

Tim smiled. “It will. It always has.”

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