The plan was take her a copy of the book two months ago.
The plan was never to know who she was in the first place.
I didn’t go to the coffee shop on Thursday mornings to make friends. I went to escape my messy house. Given the boys’ half-day school schedules, two hours was the most consecutive time I could scrape while writing Lu. If I attempted to do that at home, the dishes called. So I went to the coffee shop. And I wasn’t about to waste any of my writing time in small talk with a stranger.
But if you go to the same small coffee shop in a small town long enough, those strangers become familiar faces.
“What’s your name?” I finally asked the lady behind the counter after a month of Thursday mornings.
She followed her answer with the same question, and names were all we exchanged that day. Other Thursday mornings brought more information, like her dog’s name and how many cups of coffee she drinks in a day. Eventually, she knew when I was coming, she knew my coffee order, and she would have it ready for me at my usual seat at the high-top by the front window, along with a mug of ice water because she was concerned about my hydration.
“What are you working on?” she asked after a few months.
“Oh, well … I’m trying to write a book.” I was still in the way early days of Lu and uncertain of whether I could write a chapter let alone a whole book. My answer felt like a confession, but it didn’t sound faze her. I live in a college town, and most of the people who come to the coffee shop are professors working on publishing something or other. My detail became just another factoid she’d check in on Thursday after Thursday over the next couple of years.
I haven’t seen her much since the start of summer. I didn’t have a regular writing schedule this summer, and my fall teaching schedule has relegated coffee hour to early mornings at home (while I do those pesky dishes) and afternoons during my office hours with students. But I’ve been meaning to take her a copy of Lu since June. Such a small thing to put the book in the car, drive the mile to the coffee shop, and give it to her. It wouldn’t take more than 5 minutes, but these are the types of things I can’t seem to accomplish … among many, many, many others.
“You are accomplishing things. It’s just not what you planned.” Matt’s been telling me this for months, but I’ve found it hard to rest in that. Fridays are my hardest days. I wake up, bone tired. And from what? Certainly not because I accomplished anything I intended when I set my goals on Monday. No. Since school started, I haven’t met any of the writing, editing, marketing, publishing, promoting, or researching goals I’ve set, though I’ve reduced their scope each week. Maybe I can draft a paragraph of that scene in the back of my mind. Just a paragraph. Nope. No paragraph. Not even the first sentence of one.
“I need release,” I whispered last Friday. My prayer didn’t go past that because there wasn’t time. I had a full day that started with a stop to the coffee shop – not to cradle a mug of dark roast while I wrote stuff down for two hours, but to grab a bag of beans before I was on to Thing 2 of 57 for the day.
“I’m reading a great a book,” she told me as soon as I got the counter.
Right. How anyone can get any book.
“I’ve been meaning to give you a copy, and I’m so sorry I haven’t found the five minutes that would take, it’s just that …”
“Beth, it’s fine. I know you’re busy, but I wanted to read it. I’m halfway through, and I like it, but there’s something else. In this book, you talk about the Bible the same way you talk about coffee. You’re not preaching at me. I haven’t read my Bible in years, but I’ve started reading it again. And so now my mom likes you, too.”
Somehow – somehow – I finished that conversation like a normal person. I paid for my coffee beans and waved goodbye like I was concluding any of our other dozens of conversations. I got in my car, drove 50 feet to get to a parking space beyond the view of the coffee shop windows, parked, and wept, thereby definitively answering why I hoard random napkins in my glovebox. Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Panera, Chik-Fil-A – I cried on all your napkins last Friday.
When we pray, God hears us. And the release he delivered looked nothing like what I was requesting. No, my request was for a schedule shift. Just some time on one day so I could work – that’s what I was asking. His answer? His answer reminded me of how He works. My coffee shop visits resulted in a book. They also started a conversation – a conversation I never intended to start and when I did, I did because I’m from Ohio. We’re a friendly people. We chat it up. That’s what we do.
And then there’s what God does with it.
“What are you up to?” I asked as I pulled out of my second parking space with my second prayer of the day. It didn’t go past that because there wasn’t time, but the lack of time didn’t bother me as much. It binds only me. Not him.