No Breaks with Tradition
“People thrive when they have a mix of new and novel experiences combined with steadfast foundations like a home, family, routines, and traditions.”
This is the opening sentence in an article from Psychology Today by Dr. Kimberly Key. It could almost serve as a reimagined mission statement for My Cup of Tea. At its core, our mission is to help women in Orange Mound “thrive” vocationally and spiritually. We introduce them to “novel experiences” like gardening, food preparation, and properly steeping and drinking hot tea. We want The House to feel like a “home” and the employees and volunteers to feel like “family.” Every day is filled with “routines,” like prayer and lunch together. After years of working together in the Orange Mound community, we have our traditions, too.
Celebrating a co-worker’s birthday is a common workplace occurrence, but at The House we do it special. It starts as soon as the doors open in the morning. All sorts of breakfast fare provided by the honoree’s co-workers are spread across our kitchen table. The “birthday lady” enjoys fruit, pastries, juice, and most of the usual delectables that comprise a Continental Breakfast.
A clothespin is attached to the uniform of the honoree and throughout the day co-workers and guests fill it with various denominations of cash. The celebrant wears the money-filled clip the entire day like a large brooch and typically goes home with a handsome sum.
After lunch, there is the customary birthday cake, but not the traditional, tired rendition of the “Happy Birthday” song. The version the My Cup of Tea ladies sing is boisterous, enthusiastic and involves clapping, dancing, and laughing. It is impossible not to feel loved and celebrated when the ladies sing “Happy Birthday.”
From the early spring to late fall, Wednesdays are “garden days.” We have written often about the vegetable gardens at The House. Every woman who wants a garden has a garden and “hump days” are generally reserved for that activity. When they weed, plant, or harvest, the ladies are not alone. They are usually joined by volunteers with gardening expertise who help them maintain the gardens and suggest what will grow well. If the work in the vegetable garden is light, there is always the large herb garden in the back that needs tending or flower in the various beds surrounding The House. The vegetables and herbs are important for staving off food insecurity, but the conversations and camaraderie are just as nutritious. From discussions about various ways to prepare squash to deep spiritual truths, time together in the gardens is about sharing and learning.
Many families take their Christmas traditions for granted, but many of the women we have served over the years didn’t have holiday traditions until they arrived at My Cup of Tea. The My Cup of Tea ladies enjoy a hearty holiday lunch with volunteers, but the climax of the celebration is when their “Secret Santas” are revealed. Weeks prior to the event, each lady draws the name of a co-worker and keeps it to herself. She purchases a gift using the money she has earned working at My Cup of Tea and the knowledge she’s learned about the recipient. One at time, the ladies open their gifts for everyone to see and learn who is their “Secret Santa.” The “Santas” explain why they chose the gift for their recipient, and there are usually tears, laughter, and excessive Christmas joy.
Maybe the most important traditions we have at My Cup of Tea are our impromptu prayer sessions. It is understood that anyone at The House, the volunteers, friends or relatives, or our Orange Mound neighbors can ask for prayer at any time. Just show up and ask and everything stops. We gather around the person and pray as specifically or generically as they have requested, trusting that our Heavenly Father hears and answers in His perfect way and time.
When My Cup of Tea was founded, it was not explicitly part of our plan to establish traditions. Traditions come about because of our need for belonging, continuity, and the ability to trust in something or someone. These traditions sprung up organically, in part because most of the women we have served lacked a place or purpose to which they could belong. Most had little to no continuity in their lives from having a place to go and work daily, a place to live for an extended period, or people on whom they could rely. Specific details of the traditions may change over time, but the women of My Cup of Tea know that they can count on them to happen, and they can trust the people who are a part of them.