Cafes, Challenges and Grace: Our menu

Why do we get pushed to the edge at certain points of our life?
Why are we forced to face difficult situations that seem in the moment hopeless, or intolerable, or confusing, or maddening, or frightening through no fault of our own?
Many of us try hard to live our lives with integrity and understanding.  We do our best to be kind to others, to be sensitive to other people's feelings, to be conscientious in our work, and yet... in spite of our efforts, we get curve balls: our boss is a jerk or is unreasonably demanding, our job is eliminated, our children don't appreciate what we do for them, our spouse neglects our emotional needs or is abusive, or  some turkey runs into our car in the parking lot and doesn't leave a note.


Where is the justice we grow to expect from a world led by a Benevolent Being? Good deeds should be rewarded with good results, and bad deeds with consequences... and yet losers get away with so much, and we get taken to task for a tiny error.
Well, at a certain point in our lives, we realize that our definition of 'justice' or 'good' or 'bad' has little to do with the Universe's.  Man's terms and perspective are just that...they are not the standard by which the Universe operates. Events are neutral... they serve a purpose...therefore no matter how we view them, they are not 'bad'.
A wise and enlightened mentor once said to me, "The only sin man can commit, is not living up to his/her best knowing." Beside that omission, one we should be able to control, all else fades.  If I am unable to live and act based on my BEST knowing, I shouldn't expect anything or anyone to be any better.
There have been times when a situation has asked every ounce of tolerance, of understanding, of patience or of perseverance from me.  A situation I didn't see coming, didn't ask for and couldn't have anticipated.

A Collaboration Disguised as a Cafe

When I opened a Cafe two years ago, I hired young men who needed the work to do some of the labor... painting, sheet rock, installing cabinets or shelving.  I was over budget already, thanks to the City of Berkeley and their unreasonable requests for very specific improvements and many fees. I was at my wits end, watching my savings dwindle, and a process that should have taken 3 months, turn into an ordeal that took 6 months.
And then to top it off, the contractors I hired lied about their skills and tried to charge me way more than the job warranted.  One of them made 4 trips to Home Depot to buy and return materials, because he couldn't estimate what he needed or how much he needed, and wanted to bill me for his 4 two-hour long shopping sprees on top of the cost of materials we didn't wind up using!
Sit back. Breathe deeply. Rise above the situation and look down.  What's really going on?  Why did God very tangibly show me that I was meant to open a Cafe by sending not one, not two, but multiple signs that is was to be...and then put me in a situation where I doubted the whole thing and my ability to pull it off?
Without taking the time center yourself and literally rise above a situation, you cannot and will not see why it's happening.
The Director who hired me to be a Team Manager at AT&T once told me, "Sometimes it's not about you.  Sometimes you're participating in someone else's learning." At the time I didn't want to hear that, but over the years I've brought that piece of wisdom to mind, and found it be crucial in understanding what was going on, and then finding the right response.
In the heat of the moment it is impossible to think clearly. Stepping back means allowing for space to fall between you and the situation you're facing.  Taking a deep breath means not reacting in the moment, until you understand what's going on. Rising above, gives you perspective and allows the petty reactions to fall away.
Only at that point can you fill the space that was created with the right response.
I found myself yelling at the workers, unable to tolerate their lies and ineptitude.  I wrote a biting letter about the delay tactics, excessive red tape and unreasonable requests of the Berkeley City Planning office, and a local newspaper published the letter. My landlord fluctuated between being understanding and pushy when I didn't open on schedule. I thought I'd lose my mind.
After I stepped back, took a deep breath, and surveyed what should have been a happy process (For 15 years I talked about owning a small Cafe, and now life gave me an opportunity to fulfill that dream), I realized that everything worthwhile has a price.  It needs to. Even if it seems too high, like this one did, and those young men learned a harsh lesson in dealing with me.

You see God practically pushed me into this. Here is how:

  1.  My daughter owned an Art Gallery across from UC Berkeley
  2.  The Candy store two doors up suddenly became available
  3.  She called me and begged me to come look at it, because it was so cute
  4.  I told her I was not leaving my well-paid job at AT&T even though I have talked about wanting a Cafe
  5.  I went to look just for fun
  6.  I loved the space.  It was indeed adorable and a great location, and the address was meaningful to me
  7.  For kicks I devised a menu, talked to the landlord (who also owned the Gallery space) and figured that maybe a family member could run the Cafe during the day and I could take over the last 3 hours if I indeed took the plunge
  8.  The landlord wanted too much rent, and since my bf told me I should be able to get a better deal with so many vacancies in the area, I walked away
  9.  The landlord called me 10 days later to say he'd accept my low offer since he loved my menu and concept, and how cool to be near my daughter
  10.  I negotiated and signed the lease
  11.  TWENTY FOUR hours later, I received a call from a Director at AT&T telling me I was part of the latest layoffs!
  12.  My severance pay was enough to finance my living expenses for a year, and provide a reasonable amount towards the many improvements needed for the Cafe
There were even more signs, but my goodness these were big.

So why did I find roadblock after roadblock when I started the Permit process?

I was very much a participant in the learning experience of several people in City Planning. The head Engineer, who was featured and named in my letter, hopefully learned that you can't lead customers on, and not do what you promised.  And that you can't live in your cushy bubble and ignore the needs of an individual who is trying to open a business for their livelihood, and drag the process out by asking for outlandish things like drawing the location of lights and the wattage for light-bulbs and the type  of light-bulbs on the plans... the location of the light switches and which one controls which lights...the degree of slant of the threshold to see if wheelchairs can go over the bump... and on and on and on. The Candy store would have provided all that info, and I wasn't changing those things!
But you see my error was in getting caught up in the details. What I mean by that is my focus was captured by the mundane.  I forgot Who was running the show.  I should have remembered every step of the way, that if God wants something to happen it will happen according to His timetable, His plan, and His will. Events in my life have made this very evident.

Nothing would have changed except my attitude

And guess what?   Most of the time THAT's what it's all about. Remember Job? Attitude.

If I had continued to move inside the Grace that was showered down on me, I wouldn't have lost perspective and I would have been more aware of the choices I made.  The amount of stress I put myself through would have been shaved down to a minimum.  This wasn't my project alone.  This was OUR project. And the proof was the amazing hand-picked people who became my loyal customers, and the relationships I built with many of them.
My Cafe became a haven for my regular customers. They would come for advice on treating symptoms, for help with finding work or a place to stay, for celebrating a success or milestone, to talk about someone they were interested in dating, and ask for special meals due to dietary restrictions.
An adorable 89-year-old woman came in one afternoon, and had tea.  It was slow, so we talked...and after a few minutes we were hugging. She shared that her son was losing a battle with an illness. A couple of weeks later he passed away, and she came back for another hug.  She said she had been very depressed the day she first stopped by my Cafe, and felt a ray of sunshine bathed her when she walked in. We still get together for lunch now and then, and we write or call each other.
My bf would laugh and ask me what other restaurant in the world people would feel comfortable going into and asking for something to help with an upset stomach or a sore throat?  Or if they could get a specific meal that wasn't on the menu?

I asked a good friend, who is an artist and took Arabic lessons from me, to make a 5' wood plaque that would go over the door in the Cafe ... he created a beautiful piece of art mimicking Arabic Calligraphy with the two words I wanted... In Gratitude.

So no matter what life has in store for you, no matter how dark things look in the moment, know in your heart that...

  1.  There is reason and it's usually a demand for inner growth
  2.  All things pass, and the sooner we let go of our self-pity or rebellion the sooner it will do so
  3.  If we can muster up acceptance and trust in the powers that be, we learn to weather the inevitable challenges in a mature and helpful way
  4.  It's not always about you! But you still have to play your part.
Perhaps in time I can learn to feel grateful for the privilege of being a participant in someone else's growth
St. Francis prayed: "Lord, Let me be an Instrument of Thy Peace."
Meditation, even for just 15 minutes a day, will help put each day's events in perspective.
Meditation is inviting that SPACE I spoke of. 
In stillness, answers come. 
In silence, Grace descends.