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Passion and Pain

Passion and Pain

This is Holy Week in the Christian calendar, and we who are recipients of God’s salvation gift, which is grace by faith, reflect on Jesus’s Passion Week of physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. The sham of a trial, the mocking of His deity, flogging, humiliation, public stripping, and exposure that He endured to cancel our sin and connect us to God is the focus of our study and discussions. Though no one can imagine the degree of His suffering, some can come closer than others.

The ladies at My Cup of Tea are too familiar with both extreme physical and emotional pain. Chronic physical suffering is the ubiquitous menace among the ladies in Orange Mound.  All but two have never had a primary care physician until coming to The House and learning of Christ Community Health Services. Generations of using old remedies when pharmacies were beyond walking distance have kept few healthy and often have proved to be impediments to wellness.  Without physical health maintenance, the accrued damage to joints and organs is now irreversible.

Dental pain is often unbearable and sadly inevitable. With no consistent history of dental checkups and little knowledge of the importance of dental hygiene, abscesses are commonplace.  Several of the ladies have pulled their own teeth rather than face the dentist provided by the dental clinics to which we have taken them. Many are afraid of the Novocain needle. With their missing teeth, dentures are ill-fitted, uncomfortable, and of little help in chewing.

For the knees, elbows, and other joints, the tardy application of braces has brought temporary relief, but no cures without surgery. Medicaid and Medicare have been available to some, but most haven’t known how to access the benefits. The default when in need of care is to spend hours in the ER.

These ladies know real physical pain and are tough in its unrelenting presence. They know less about health maintenance and the functions of their organs, lymph systems, bones, and joints than one might expect. We don’t play doctor, but we treat minor wounds and allay fears of the unknown often preventing unnecessary late night ER visits.

Encouraging probiotics and healthful choices in diet is another new concept for many.  We grow many vegetables in our gardens, we juice donated fruits into healthy smoothies, and nutritious lunches are provided daily.

Recently a spring cleaning day of carrying wood branches to the curb, washing porch furniture, and harvesting from the winter garden was exhausting and required frequent breaks for rest. The ladies do not have the physical endurance to match women their age who have exercised regularly.  Poverty doesn’t condone aerobics, weightlifting, or Pilates.

Many of us will reverently focus during Holy Week on Christ’s torture on Calvary without a personal reference to His pain, for we have never had such anguish. Modern day pain is addressed with drugs and anesthesia. Recovery is quicker in this century as never before. Identifying with Jesus’s physical pain is impossible if emergency medical assistance is within call. Most of us cannot begin to conjure the pain He suffered on our behalf because we have had easy and affordable access to doctors and clinics and medicines to numb us in our suffering.

The women at My Cup of Tea, however, have a closer bond with Good Friday’s august torment of our Lord, for they have known annoying and acute pain with only minimal relief. Perhaps loving their Savior for sparing them the eternal pain of sin is theirs in more depth, appreciation, and respect than ours.

Easter celebrates the purpose, plan, and perfection of God’s goodness. Christ’s pain was deposited, His body given new life, and the redemption of the seeming injustice of His suffering bought my life to be resurrected with His. He knows well our pain today, and He lives walking in pace and place not only to intercede but to comfort us.  He experienced the abandonment and judgement lasting on the cross to the death. In His humanity He endured, but in His divinity, He conquered death and sin for those who find Him eternally relevant and irresistible.    

Pain is less today because of access to modern meds, but pain-free and eternal joy is assured because He lives.

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Seeking the Welfare of the City

Seeking the Welfare of the City

Jeremiah 29 4-7 is a message from God to the Jewish exiles in Babylon – a place where none of them expected to be. It was a place foreign to what most of them had ever known. Despite their circumstances, God told them to, 

“Seek the welfare of the city to which I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (v.7) 

 

He also said, 

“Build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their produce. (v.5) 

 

Doing this work was probably not so easy for the Israelites in Babylon, and it’s not so easy today if your address is Orange Mound. 

 A woman below the poverty line who is a homeowner is a rarity in Orange Mound. We have three homeowners among our workforce at the tea company. They have pierced an invisible but all too well-known barrier. 

 Pride among our three who have bought their homes keeps me smiling and hopeful. One woman planted tulips this winter and is watching them lengthen and bloom. One is developing a workspace for her sewing enterprise. Another has redecorated her living room with window shades and upholstered furniture with the contributions of My Cup of Tea volunteers.   

I rejoice that these ladies have loyalty to Orange Mound and want to be a part of its renaissance. They are seeking the shalom of our community. Shalom is a word we commonly translate as “peace,” but in Hebrew it means so much more. The person wishing shalom to another is saying something similar to, “may you be filled with prosperity, good health, and peace of mind.” These are the ideals we desire for Orange Mound and the broader community. 

However, it is also apparent to us, but not often in print, that the population of Orange Mound abounds in single-mother families, which are most often lacking in financial support from the fathers of their children. With empathy and respect, we cover them with prayer and try to guide the majority of our ladies who are single moms as they move from rental to rental within and beyond Orange Mound.  They are searching for safety, affordability, and if possible functioning utilities. 

A mother with five children prays for a three-bedroom home within those parameters, but more likely can only afford a two-bedroom house.  Her daughters will sleep with her. Broken windows, holes in the floors, leaks in the roofs and pipes, and infestations of rats and insects are ubiquitous. Landlords are often out of state or purposely impossible to reach. 

For this reason and others, the shalom of our city is more elusive for the majority of our employees who are forced to rent their homes. If shalom is peace of mind, prosperity, and the like, the condition of housing in their community inhibits its attainment. Memphis pride abounds among us who don’t have to worry about such obstacles. We ignore the national critics and the sullied reputation of our city as a result of the high crime rate.  We brag about food, basketball, music, sunsets, and so much more. But these sources of our 901 affinities are not on the radars of our renters. 

Those of us living outside of Orange Mound choose our homes quite differently. Our neighborhoods are selected more for proximity to schools, work, grocery stores, and entertainment. The lack of a three-car garage and a swimming pool might be a deal breaker. Houses are bought within our communities for square footage, curb appeal, demographics, and modernity. 

However, the Lord says to all of us who call Him ours, that this is not our home. We are sojourners, exiles, and His.  He calls us to beautify and sanctify the footprint of our location.  I have said before, there is theology in geography. 

We want this mighty band of women to hammer down their tent pegs into the soil of the several blocks of this neighborhood.  We value these ladies who will model stability, neighborliness, and pride in a reformation of a neighborhood that for the time being is in need of hope. We are assured by the message in Jeremiah that “[seeking] the welfare of the city” is the work we all must do. 

We at My Cup of Tea are invested in an “orphan” community called Orange Mound which is the apple of God’s eye. 

 

 

 

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Women are History

Women are History

The Memphis weather is schizophrenic. A blanket of chartreuse pollen covers the cars left in the elements overnight. The Bradford Pears, Dogwoods, and Daffodils are robustly blooming, while teeny green buds are peeking out from the branches of hardwoods across the city. These are sure signs that spring is near, but something else important is happening too.

March is National Women’s History Month.

In 1987, Congress enacted a perpetual declaration that March would be National Women’s History Month. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter recognized a week in the month as National Women’s History Week. In announcing the designation, Carter said this:

From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”

Carter was and is correct that women have made some of the most significant contributions to our nation with either delayed recognition or in some cases no recognition at all. But without minimizing the contributions of prominent women in our nation’s history, we should also remember that their achievements were built on a foundation laid by other women whose names, hard work, and dedication will never be known to the masses. These are “ordinary” women – mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, teachers, church leaders, nurses, and caretakers – who invested in girls, other women, and communities.

Orange Mound Women

We’ve often told you how extraordinary the My Cup of Tea women are. Each overcoming enormous personal tragedy and struggle to fight for a better future for themselves, their children, grandchildren, and neighborhood. One woman is presently caring for her life partner who is dying of cancer. Another is the primary caretaker for a special needs brother who is also diabetic. One of our grandmothers stepped-up to gain custody of her special needs granddaughter. Still others have overcome addiction and the streets believing there is a better way. Yet, despite the challenges, they are quick to reach into shallow pockets where they always find something to give a sister in need. They’re choosing to grow roots deeper in Orange Mound, rather than relocating to other parts of the city. They are invested in the success of My Cup of Tea, not only for what it can do for them, but for how it can help stabilize their beloved Orange Mound.

East Memphis Sisters

Serving beside the Orange Mound women are their East Memphis sisters. Most of these sisters have likely had an easier existence than their My Cup of Tea counterparts. They are better resourced and financially secure. They have a network of friends, acquaintances, and experiences that make navigating life simpler. Most have skills and education that have led them to succeed in homemaking, business, or community engagement. They could have remained in the relative safety and comfort of their East Memphis enclave, but instead they answered a call to serve people whose culture and experiences are vastly different than their own in a neighborhood they have most certainly been told is unsafe. Yet, they came anyway, and are still coming. They bring lunches, plant gardens, package tea, sew aprons, refinish furniture, and donate time and money. The most important things they do are listen, learn, and befriend their Orange Mound sisters without judgment.

The Backbone

If the Orange Mound women and their East Memphis sisters are the “hands and feet” of My Cup of Tea, then Debbie is the backbone. Debbie is the operations manager and resident tea expert. It is her knowledge, work ethic, and genuine love of the My Cup of Tea women that coalesce to make the operation successful. Debbie is accounting, human resources, supply chain and logistics, and sales and marketing combined in a single human. She is fiercely organized and committed to stellar customer service. However, Debbie’s most important roles are counselor, teacher, and friend. The My Cup of Tea women know that they can bring any problem or struggle to Debbie. She listens, guides, advises, and prays for and with them. Some even call her Momma D.

The Visionary

Many of the notable women in American History were visionaries. At My Cup of Tea, our visionary is our founder Carey Moore, though she never claims the vision as her own. Carey is quick to say that the idea for this social enterprise in Orange Mound came from the Lord. Through fervent prayer, biblical wisdom, and an indefatigable spirit, Carey leads and inspires all associated with My Cup of Tea. Carey is always reading, learning, and applying new information to the mission of the organization. When a problem presents itself, Carey in undeterred by its complexity or unsavoriness. Her goal is always to resolve it with the best interests of others in mind.

Women Making History

For all the sweat, toil, and prayer of the last eight years, it is all but certain that no woman in any role with My Cup of Tea will be lauded in the annals of American, Tennessee, or Memphis history. But it is almost equally certain that there will be women in the future who will rise to the level of historical figure because of the impact of My Cup of Tea and its women. Perhaps a granddaughter or great granddaughter will achieve scientific, business, or political success because their grandmother or great grandmother broke the cycle of generational poverty through her employment at My Cup of Tea. Or maybe a young woman, because her family moved into one of the new, affordable homes to be built on Semmes Street, will have her own room where she studies, excels in school, and becomes a great American author.  Whoever she is, whatever the accomplishment, or whenever it occurs, the My Cup of Tea women are helping to make history everyday and for that we are grateful.

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The Planting

The Planting

Orange Mound should be a priority for historians who study Black History. It is here that African American survivors of the “yellow fever” epidemic applied their cultural courage and built a community for themselves.  Within the boundaries of this all-Black neighborhood within the majority white city of Memphis during the turn of the 20th century, the injustices of the Jim Crow South had less traction.

It is here that Black Memphians built and owned homes, inspiring post-civil war African Americans to look toward one of their 1st Black Meccas. It became a community of inspiration for the progeny of freed slaves in the U.S. and an economic prototype for progress and pride.  Everything to prosper a family and a neighborhood was offered within its boundary. Civic pride was certifiable with good reason.

A tract of land from the Deaderick 5000-acre plantation was scored into affordable plots for purchase in 1889, and a neighborhood in what is now the center of Memphis became a haven. It became, “a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor and beauty from the ashes,”(Isaiah 61:3) … in the very place where 100 slaves that worked the Deaderick farm are buried.

Segregated from the larger city to the northwest, Orange Mound was populated with new homes, schools, churches, theaters, parks, fire departments, libraries, medical clinics, and businesses.  Future teachers, doctors, and lawyers graduated from Melrose High School and brought inspiration to those watching and thriving within its boundaries.  A new refrain was written in the underground music genres that were also thriving in the city.

So, what happened?  Orange Mound has lost its luster and has an unseemly reputation now.

 A complicated web of circumstances precipitated the decline of this once fabled community. Following a major civil rights victory in the late sixties that required the City of Memphis to desegregate parks, the City resisted by closing the swimming pool that had been a gathering place since 1928. The City eventually sold the property to a for-profit business and filled-in the pool. This, among other events, limited opportunities for Orange Mound neighbors to gather and strengthen the sense of community that had existed.

The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a seminal event for the nation, the city, and Orange Mound. King was known to frequent barbershops and restaurants in the community, and a group known as the Orange Mound Mobilizers served as his body guards. Immediately following the killing of King, parts of Park Avenue burned, and the national guard occupied the neighborhood.

Only a few years later, the rising influence of the illicit drug trade and the expansion of gangs found its way to Orange Mound. Many middle income families chose to move east to more affluent neighborhoods presumed to be safer.

We are more than 50 years past the glory days, but Isaiah once again gives me hope that a renaissance is possible.

 

“They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”(Isaiah 61:4)

 

This past Saturday, another chapter is being added to the Orange Mound history book. United Housing is announcing the plans for 4 single-family homes that will be built on Semmes Street on property previously owned by My Cup of Tea and across the street from our original location. There will be more to come. A new vision is taking form, and prayers are being answered.  The roots of pride in this neighborhood are still embedded in the soil, and the first families of Orange Mound are in the great cloud of witnesses encouraging us onward.  The neighborhood’s legacy is intact.  More Black history is in the making in Orange Mound.

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Leaning In

Leaning In

Leaning In

Every woman currently employed at My Cup of Tea is a Black woman who is also a mother. Many are grandmothers. In many ways, they are like all mothers and grandmothers when it comes to concern for their children.

Mothers and grandmothers worry about whether their children have enough to eat. Do they have clean clothes to wear? Do they have good friends and are those friends positive influences? Are they getting a good education? How are they responding to the temptations to experiment with drugs, alcohol, or to engage in other risky behaviors? And there are so many others.

That’s where the paths diverge.

Black mothers and grandmothers have a unique and unenviable burden to bear. Each time one of their children leaves home, they must worry about whether that child will die a violent death. The fear is palpable, and it’s rational.

The Centers for Disease Control names homicide as the leading cause of death among young Black boys and men ages 1 to 44. A more recent study from the University of Michigan is more specific and ranks use of force by law enforcement as the sixth leading cause of death for young, Black men. What is clear is that a young, Black man is 2.5 to 3 times more likely to be murdered than young men of other racial groups.

In the wake of the Tyre Nichols killing, the My Cup of Tea women grieve with RowVaughn Wells, Tyre’s mother. But there is no shock or hint of surprise. The violent death of young, Black men, and with increasing frequency, young, Black women, is all too common.

“Everyone’s already decided that we [African Americans] weren’t brought up right, can’t read and write, don’t want an education or a job, and just want to be out here doing the wrong things,” one My Cup of Tea woman recently said. “It’s not true. Some of us…a lot of us are trying to better ourselves.”

It’s because of this perception that the same woman says she had “the talk” with her children. “The talk” she refers to is one mostly exclusive to the parents and guardians of Black boys and girls. It is about racial bias from authority figures like law enforcement and how to protect themselves when approached. Children are given instructions like: don’t make any sudden moves; always keep your hands where they can be seen; never argue or disagree, even if you are right; don’t wear your hood; and keep your hands out of your pockets. And “the talk” is not a one-time occurrence. Most African American children are regularly reminded about this special set of rules exclusive to young people with black and brown skin.

My Cup of Tea began in 2015. It was less than a year after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. That means the African American women of Orange Mound who work here and the Caucasian women of East Memphis and Shelby County who volunteer here have served side-by-side through the tragedies of George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Philando Castille, Breonna Taylor, and so many others over the last eight years.

In the days immediately following one of these high-profile killings, sometimes there have been frank conversations about race and prejudice. At other times, a simple squeeze of a hand or pat on the shoulder acknowledges that the situation is harder than one can express. What we have come to realize is that we have an answer for many of the problems My Cup of Tea women face like an unpaid bill, a case of the flu, a ride to and from work, or an empty refrigerator. But this, the reality that we are losing so many black and brown men and boys to violence, some at the hands of those sworn to protect, is something for which we have no answers.

Our volunteer sisters have been shocked, unaware of the reality of their black and brown sisters. They had never heard the term "driving while Black" and found it hard to believe, but are committed to praying for justice and reform.

All of us empathize as best we can but lack the heart-rending experience to truly understand. So, together we lean into what we know and who we know: our belief that God understands the things we don’t (Psalm 147:5); He hears and answers prayer (John 15:7); God heals the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3); and we are all made in His image (Genesis 1:27).

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Joy in the Morning

Joy in the Morning

Verses from Isaiah 58 and 61 have been motivational for many of us who are engaged in relationship resourcing in Orange Mound. Examples that confirm and convict us include:

“Loose the chains of injustice, spend yourselves for the hungry; satisfy the needs of the oppressed; bind up the broken hearted; bestow the oil of gladness instead of mourning; provide for those who grieve”, and there are many more.

None of us can perfectly fulfill these directives, but there is a slow and welcoming determination in the right direction among us all.

Last week was engulfed by sadness for our little community of Orange Mound women.  Roz’s brother died suddenly in a rehabilitation facility. Though she has been Robert’s caregiver for his entire life, Roz was not with him when he passed. The circumstances of his death are filled with questions and no answers.

Danyelle’s daughter was shot and wounded by someone she had trusted. The perpetrator has so far escaped arrest while Danyelle’s daughter has been cared for by several physicians contemplating what the best options are for her care. 

Bretta’s beloved pet and companion dog, Walter, was stolen by a neighbor, who refuses to admit her theft and has threatened Bretta.

Our newest and youngest employee has discovered she must move with her mother and several siblings back to the city she fled.  

Deborah’s pipes burst 2 weeks ago, and she has had no running water while patiently waiting for the plumber who has postponed several times.

Patricia’s boyfriend, Chris, has discovered terminal cancer and is too weak for a procedure that might give him more time with her and their daughter.

With each of our ladies, we have prayed, advised, resourced, and wept.  We have offered a pause in the work schedule for each as they recalibrate and tend to their sorrows. 

Last Friday would have been the logical day for them to skip and begin their rest, but because it was Debbie’s birthday, all of them showed up. We are devoted to Debbie, and consider her our mom, the glue for our employees, and our tea expert.   In surprising her, all participated in the birthday song, a little dancing, lots of pictures, singing, gifts, laughter, and cake.

These dear women of immeasurable love and strength are always quick to lift another up amid a spiral downward in their own personal struggles.  Each pinned dollars to her “corsage” and each brought a card of appreciation and celebration.   Like children, we watched her open her gifts, and blushed as she raved over each of us.

These courageous women can trace the rainbow through the rain.   The resilience of each of our ladies in their days of grief bears witness to what God is doing through the many volunteers we call Sisters. Sisters have fashioned crowns of beauty instead of ashes for them and anointed them with the oil of gladness instead of mourning. (Isaiah 61:3).

All with fresh wounds are grieving but with hope anchored in the promises of God’s grace and intimate presence in times of stress and sorrow. In the meantime, a birthday bash is in order and selfless generosity is second nature to them all.

God says over 400 times in the Bible for Believers to go to the poor.  One mistakenly might think that resourcing and rectifying debts and injustices is the reason for the call and our Lord’s intention. I am convinced that it is that and so much more. It is for us, the resourced, to see their capacity to wait and trust and for us to learn from them how to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. 

Weeping lasts for a season, but joy comes in the morning, always at the House in Orange Mound.

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Water, Water Everywhere

Water, Water Everywhere

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink,” is a phrase familiar to most of us, though we may not remember that it comes from the Samuel Taylor Coleridge epic poem, Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In the poem and in modern-day vernacular, the quote references a situation where one is surrounded by an abundance of something, but unable to benefit from it. Quite literally, the phrase describes what nearly all Memphians experienced just prior to and following Christmas Day. Despite sitting atop a sand aquifer spanning nearly 7,500 square miles, residents of the city were ordered to boil water because it was no longer potable because of broken mains caused by sub-zero temperatures.

When the things we take for granted-like water-are snatched from us, we are rattled, frustrated, and even panicked. But every upheaval in our lives produces varying degrees of suffering that depend in large measure on where we live and the resources immediately available to us. For certain areas and neighborhoods in Memphis, the water crisis was a step above an inconvenience. For others, the crisis was nearly a life-and-death situation. Those hardest-hit zip codes tended to be in low-income, minority neighborhoods – a fact that is consistent with other water crises throughout the country in places like Jackson, Mississippi and Flint, Michigan to name two.

Compared to North Memphis and parts of Southeast Shelby County, the impact on Orange Mound was not as severe. However, we have often written about the poor housing situations of some of the women at My Cup of Tea and the lack of insulation and basic amenities in the places where they live. We have also communicated how some lack reliable transportation and how all live in a “food desert.” Combine these factors with an almost week-long water crisis and the living situation of many becomes perilous.

In the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the Mariner impulsively decides to slay an albatross that since its appearance has ushered in warm winds and calm seas. That selfish, impetuous decision leads to a voyage of tragedy and suffering and dooms the Mariner to tell his tale to anyone who will listen. The actions and consequences of the Mariner are not all that different than those who have decided over decades across our nation’s cities to neglect the infrastructure that brings drinking water to the homes of our poorest citizens. The difference is that those making the selfish decisions weren’t affected by them. Thankfully, City of Memphis leaders have recently made a multi-million-dollar commitment to upgrading this infrastructure, though it will take many years.

Decisions have consequences. For the women at My Cup of Tea, most will tell you that decisions they made in their lives resulted in the often dire circumstances in which they have found themselves. Yet, even with a good job, steady income, the support of co-workers, access to food and water, reliable transportation, and medical care, the goal of escaping poverty remains elusive because of the decisions of others. Water and electric infrastructure, redlining, poor housing stock, and environmental hazards are just some of the obstacles not created by poor people that prevent them from becoming economically self-sufficient.

Over almost 8 years, we’ve learned that these barriers slow the wheels of progress to a wearisome grind. But we are still moving forward. At first it may seem ironic that the perseverance required for the My Cup of Tea women to continue striving when a new challenge is lurking around every corner to bash any semblance of success comes from water. It’s not the water we survived without through the holidays, but the water we share with each other from Scripture daily – Living Water.

In John 4, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well,

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4: 13-14

It is our hope in that spring of water that satisfies our thirst even when the pipes are broken and water is everywhere, but without a drop to drink.

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Undertaking an Adventure

Undertaking an Adventure

Periodically, we mention our entrepreneurs at My Cup of Tea. Cheryl, Deborah, L. Cool and Rosalyn, with the support of volunteers, started micro enterprises to generate additional income in the areas of monogramming, sewing, furniture refurbishing, and jewelry-making and wig sales.

We began referring to them as entrepreneurs in the traditional American, capitalist context in which a person has an idea and takes the steps to monetize and hopefully profit from it. The word entrepreneur is a fairly modern word in that it is less than three centuries old. It comes from the French word entreprendre, which means “to undertake” or when referring to a person “adventurer.” Clearly, the My Cup of Tea entrepreneurs hope to make a profit, but the original meaning of the word may be more apropos in that each are undertaking an adventure requiring hard work, ingenuity, and courage.

Furniture Refurbishing (L. Cool)

Cool was hired at My Cup of Tea to perform general maintenance and to the keep the grounds. She does both with pride and great skill. As a child, L.’s mother would give her the job of putting together a piece of furniture or a shelf

purchased on a shopping trip, and she delighted in the task. At home, L. tinkers in her garage and enjoys woodworking. These abilities opened the door for L. to work with My Cup of Tea volunteer, Shelley, who has broad experience restoring and selling antique furniture. Shelley has helped L. learn to identify antiques and has helped L. gain experience in the use of various refurbishing and refinishing techniques.

Besides her skills and love for the work, what makes L. Cool so good at working with furniture is patience and persistence. The pieces she refurbishes didn’t devolve into disrepair overnight and restoring them to greatness doesn’t happen overnight either. L’s own experience with addiction required three failed attempts to get sober before she was finally successful. This year, L. celebrates 26 years of sobriety and a growing small business.

Monogramming (Cheryl)

Cheryl can monogram almost anything. From towels to purses to My Cup of Tea uniform shirts, Cheryl beautifully personalizes all sorts of items for customers.

Like the other entrepreneurs, Cheryl monograms to make extra money, but more than that she has a gift for bringing joy to others, and monogramming is one way she does it.

Cheryl is full of energy and knows many of our customers by name – but they all know her. They remember how enthusiastically they are greeted, how knowledgeable Cheryl is about our products, and how interested she is in them and their stories. Cheryl puts this same love and energy into the monogramming projects she does.

Jewelry and Wigs (Rosalyn)

You may know that Roz’s initial business was selling wigs. There is even a wig shop behind The House in Orange Mound. We helped launch Roz’s wig business because of her years of experience working in hair salons and her amazing creativity. Roz is the person at My Cup of Tea who does most of the

wrapping and decorating of gifts and packages. However, there is substantial competition for selling and styling wigs, and Roz needed another outlet for her creative gifts.

With the help of My Cup of Tea volunteer, Catherine, a very successful small business owner, Roz has begun making beautiful jewelry. Her offerings include stylish earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. All of her items are reasonably priced and make wonderful gifts.

Beyond selling jewelry and wigs for extra income, Roz uses her creativity as a welcome distraction from the challenges she faces as the primary caretaker for her brother who is recovering from two strokes.

Sewing (Deborah)

Deborah sews for My Cup of Tea and for her own sewing business, Deborah’s Creations. She learned to sew in a Home Economics class in middle school. At our recent Holiday Open House, Deborah’s festive Teacup Pouches were one of

our biggest sellers. The hot and cold therapy wraps that have been wildly popular over the last couple of years were sewn by Deborah as well as our tea cozies and aprons.

Deborah is an accomplished seamstress, but she is always willing to learn and has benefitted from working with her friends and our volunteers, Sandy and Beverly. Deborah’s pieces are so beautiful and popular because she strives for perfection in her work - not to receive any personal credit, but to please others. To be sure it’s right, Deborah spends hours sewing despite a health condition that makes it very painful to sit for long hours. She often steps away from the sewing machine to ease her pain but comes back a short time later to finish the job.

Conclusion

This holiday season, if you are able, please consider supporting one of entrepreneurs. There items are exclusive to The House, but if you can’t stop by, call us to hear what they have available, and we’ll even send pictures. Also pray for the manageable growth of their businesses and that we would identify other entrepreneurial opportunities for our other employees at My Cup of Tea who desire to pursue them. And, as always, thank you for undertaking this adventure with us.

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3 Reasons We Ask for Donations

3 Reasons We Ask for Donations

In the seven years since My Cup of Tea launched as a ministry in the Orange Mound community, we have experienced many changes.  Women have come to us for help and jobs, left us for all kinds of reasons, and then have come back again. We have been a part of births, illnesses, and deaths. We have celebrated milestones, grieved disappointments, encouraged each other, apologized to each other, and learned from each other.

A duplex on Semmes was renovated to host our tea operation and just two short years later, we moved to a larger, renovated Victorian-style home that we fondly call The House. We started our enterprise with a modest number of teas for sale. Today, we have 70 teas and at least one customer in every state except for Alaska and South Dakota. From 2020 to 2021, sales of tea and tea products increased by almost 35%.

Yet, with all that change and growth, we have applied for more grants and asked people like you for donations more than at any time in the last seven years. If you’ve noticed and you’re wondering why we ask, here are three important reasons.

Pragmatism

The first reason is a pragmatic one. While we could not be happier about the popularity of our products and the robust sales we have enjoyed, especially during the holidays, My Cup of Tea would have to sell nearly 60,000 boxes of tea annually to cover our expenses. We have 17 employees, and like most businesses, personnel-related costs consume the largest portion of our budget. And that’s a good thing, since a primary part of our mission is to provide jobs to Orange Mound women. Our second largest expense is the tea itself. As you probably know, we import tea from all over the world to ensure we are selling a superior product. Then, like all businesses, we have expenses related to our facilities, marketing, and professional services like accounting.

The bottom line is that without donations and grant funding, the business activities that provide the jobs for women would not survive.

Inclusion

The second reason we continue to ask for money is that we want to include as many people as we can in our cause. While we have some opportunities for volunteers to donate time and expertise, those opportunities are limited because so much of our day is spent filling orders. Also, not everyone can donate their time because of work, family obligations, or physical limitations. However, donating, even a small amount, directly impacts the lives of the women we serve. We are able to keep them working and earning a paycheck, and we are able to meet emergency needs that arise in their lives. It is for this reason we launched The Blend a few months ago. The Blend allows those who want to engage with us on an ongoing basis to contribute as little as $10 per month to support our work.

Sustainability

“Couldn’t a person just buy the tea to support My Cup of tea,” you might wonder.

Of course, and we encourage everyone to purchase tea for yourself, your family, friends, and coworkers. Most of us, however, will try a product once because it looks interesting or because someone told us good things about it. Whether we continue to purchase that product depends on many factors – quality, convenience, practicality, price, etc. This is why we are always excited to win a repeat customer. But a person who gives their hard-earned money to an organization expecting nothing in return is a committed supporter of the work and often will give again monetarily or in other ways. The regular repeat customer and the donor are the keys to long-term sustainability.

Changing the poverty cycle that may have existed for generations in a family and affecting revitalization of a community is not a sprint, but a marathon. We have taken important steps to ensure that My Cup of Tea thrives for many years to come, and one of those steps is building a base of financial support to sustain our work through the best and worst of economic times.

To be clear, if you are regularly purchasing tea, please continue. Those purchases create the physical work each woman at The House does. But if you want to invest in their lives more, then consider donating to us. The Blend, as mentioned, is a monthly donor network that comes with gifts and benefits for giving each month. If you would like to make one-time or periodic donations, you can do that here. And we also accept checks at 3028 Carnes Avenue, Memphis, TN 38111. All of these gifts are tax-deductible.

Finally, if you ever have any questions about our products or how we use your donations, email us. We are happy to discuss those issues with you.

And thank you for standing with us and the women of Orange Mound for all these years.

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Poverty about More than Money

Poverty about More than Money

When most people contemplate poverty, they think about a severe lack of income, which is partially correct. We are all familiar generally with the Federal Poverty Guidelines, which determine what kind of assistance one is eligible to receive and how much. The 2022 guidelines define poverty as a family of four with income of $27,750 or less.

Internationally, the World Bank labels anyone who lives on $1.90 per day or less as living in poverty. Other economists, sociologists, and organizations they represent have developed thresholds of $3.10 per day and $7.40 per day. In most places in the world, the definition of poverty boils down to what it costs to purchase adequate food, shelter, and clothing.

There is no doubt that these basics (food, shelter, clothing) are essential for one to overcome poverty, but addressing the issue from an exclusively monetary standpoint misses the mark. It reminds me of a quote from my high school history teacher,

“Money can’t buy you happiness, but you can be sad in a better part of town.”

I think Mr. Freeman was trying to grab our attention with a joke, but there is a broader point. If we could meet the basic needs of those living in poverty, which we should strive to do, there would still be a dearth of other critical resources – some that money can’t buy.

The ministry Compassion provides a broader definition of poverty,

"Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom."

Another definition from educator, Dr. Ruby Payne that we’ve used before is,

“it’s [Poverty] a lack of resources: financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationships, role models, and knowledge of hidden rules.”

 

What these two views of poverty have in common is that they are more inclusive than just lacking financial resources, and some of the absent resources cannot be bought - specifically, relationships and how one feels about oneself.

People living in poverty often describe themselves as ashamed, inferior, or powerless, according to the Chalmers Center. The relationships they have are mostly limited to people living in close proximity and struggling with the same poverty-related issues. This limits a person’s ability to connect with opportunities for education, housing, mental health services, etc. or to effectively navigate complex systems. How? Well, we all the know the saying, “it’s not who you are, but who you know.” Knowing who to ask, or even better, having a friend or acquaintance who knows the answer is a resource most of us take for granted. However, for the under-resourced, the lack of relationships is most often a guarantee of failure.

Another aspect to relationships that most of us don’t appreciate is the emotional and physical support relationships provide. Many living in poverty are single parents with no system of support. My wife and I have raised four children that are all born two years apart. We lived two doors down from my in-laws. My dad, stepmother, and sister lived 15 minutes away. My sister-in-law and her family lived 25 minutes away, and we were part of a church family. All were resourced and able to help us when needed, and we were still exhausted at the end of each day. Imagine a mother or father living at the poverty level with multiple small children and no one to offer encouragement, a ride, or a respite.

As daunting as a lack of relationships is, a poor self-image may be the most damaging. Feeling ashamed because you needed help or couldn’t provide for your children leads to a resistance to asking for all that you need or accepting what well-meaning people give even though it’s not what helps. Believing you are inferior results in staying quiet, rather than advocating for yourself and your family. And a sense of powerlessness, breeds an attitude of, “It won’t matter anyway, so why try?”

Let me acknowledge that we have written a lot about poverty already, and we will write more about it in the future. It is because we want our customers and supporters to understand that poverty is complex and people, no matter how hard they work, don’t overcome it in a short time. Because poverty is complex, we approach our mission more broadly than simply focusing on workforce development.

We provide jobs to help meet basic needs, but also to address feelings of inadequacy and so that everyone can experience the dignity of work. We incubate relationships between the women who work here, but also between the employees and the volunteers whose networks are far more expansive than those of the employees. We encourage the women to speak up, either in a group or one-on-one, about their needs, their struggles, and how we can help. And we offer Bible study and prayer, because we want them to know that we are all broken, but in Christ none of us has to be ashamed.

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Dancing in the Streets Again

Dancing in the Streets Again

An Answer to Violent Crime in Memphis

     The first week of September in our city has been fraught with anger, anxiety, and fear. A young mother of two was kidnapped and murdered while jogging, and a separate city-wide shooting spree killed four and injured three. Many have eloquently written laments for Memphis, and many have spoken on behalf of all of us who are caught in the vice of despair. Words and waiting… watching and wishing…

     Many were awakened to the inexplicable violence because it crossed an invisible barrier from our poorest neighborhoods to our wealthier ones. The kind of violence that many of the women in Orange Mound have become accustomed to exploded into communities considered to be “safe.” No longer could we acknowledge a crime problem in Memphis via nameless statistics, but instead we were able to put a name and a face to a number.

     For years now at The House, we have listened to, counseled with, and prayed for women who lost a husband, a child, a grandchild, a close friend to gun violence. We have also sought healing for women whose child or relative was a perpetrator of a violent crime.

 

     So, what do we do?  Who can fix us?

 

 

     Torrey Bates, of For the Kingdom, wrote in his most recent newsletter:

 

“The question isn’t, ‘Is the violence out of control?’ We each know that is a resounding YES. The question should be, ‘What do we do as children of God and bearers of His light in times like this?’”

 

     He continues:

 

“The issue we are dealing with is spiritual (Ephesians 6:11-12). Throughout the Bible, when a city was in disarray like we are, a remnant of believers’ first reaction was to bow before God, confess, and look to Him for wisdom before they stood up to take action.

 

     At the heart of God is loving our neighbors as we would love ourselves. Spiritual work starts first at home and then out to our neighbors loving them as we do ourselves. The work of loving our community is not a transactional one or for the soldiers, but for all of us to play a role in taking action out of love and giving the least of those what they need in order to rebuild the fabric of our city.”

 

     Jesus Christ writes through Solomon in Proverbs 11:10:

 

“When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices”.

 

     Someone broke that verse apart for me years ago.

 

     Hebrew for “righteous” is “tsaddiqim,” defined as the people who follow God’s heart and ways and who see everything they have as gifts from God to be stewarded for His purposes.

 

     Tim Keller adds that, “the righteous are those who disadvantage themselves for the community.”

 

     Thousands of righteous women have sung and run this week.  I heard the refrain, “Let this light of mine shine over Memphis Town.” The refrains were echoed across the world by like-minded righteous women holding candles and singing, “we shall overcome the dangers of our times.”

 

     The “rejoice,” in Hebrew means “dancing in the streets!”

 

     When the righteous prosper, according to Proverbs 11:10, even the poor neighborhoods can dance in the streets because the resources are pouring in and all of the needs will be met. Neighborhoods clean up and thrive, injustices are history, kids are parented, porches have swings, picnics abound, cars slow down, grass is mowed, people own homes, schools are respectable, teachers have sway, dads are present, jobs are secure, and gardens are everywhere.

 

     Jesus also said through Matthew’s Gospel in Matthew 18:19:

 

“If two of you, who are righteous, shall agree on earth in what they ask, it shall be done for them.”

 

     There is enormous power that exists when believers get in agreement with each other. This week alone, dialogue and demonstration has avowed that we are all in agreement and asking for peace and safety in our city.

 

     The Greek for “agreement” is sumphoneo.  It means there is a symphony, suggesting diverse instruments under the direction of a skilled conductor producing a masterpiece.

 

     Memphis can be God’s masterpiece again.

 

     Thousands upon thousands of us throughout our country, and even across the world agree, have sung about it, have run for it, and have prayed over it.

 

     There is a symphony accompanying the voices of women who are singing, “this little light of mine” will overcome! The darkness cannot isolate us, divide us, or discourage us.

 

     Our city is going to rise from the ashes. Where once we were the City of Churches, The City Beautiful of America, and the Capital of the Midsouth, we will be The City on the Bluff where children play freely in their front yards watching their parents dance in the streets.

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Grit-N-Grind

Grit-N-Grind

     The 901, especially its largest component, Memphis, is comprised of many distinct communities with their own traditions, histories, personalities, and venues. From architecture to eateries to neighborhood priorities, one can witness stark differences by simply crossing the street. These distinctions contribute to the incomparable aura that is Memphis. And if only one of these communities could be chosen as most representative of the community at-large, it would undoubtedly be Orange Mound. Yes, we’re biased, but here’s our case.

     It’s been more than a decade now since the phrase Grit-N-Grind was coined to describe the style of basketball played by our beloved Memphis Grizzlies during the Allen-Randolph-Gasol era. The city and its surrounding communities embraced the slogan, not just for applicability to basketball, but because it described a way of life for many Memphians.

     The median income in Memphis for an individual is $26,000 and less than $42,000 for a household. Only 31% of residents have educational attainment higher than a high school diploma. And we are all too familiar with the impact of crime on families, businesses, and neighborhoods. Making the ends meet for many is a daily grind and not for the faint of heart.

     Yet, there is pride and determination in our Memphis. We’ve seen bad times before, but we won’t quit, ever. We are perfectly capable of pointing out what’s wrong, so if you’re not from here, don’t be condescending by trying to tell us how we can improve. We love our barbecue, our blues, and our basketball, and we will line them up against your best any day, but we’re so much more than just those things.

     Like the city as a whole, Orange Mound’s median income and educational attainment are low – even lower than the dismal numbers citywide. Crime crept in during the 1980s and hasn’t left, and there is no doubt that putting food on the table and paying rent in Orange Mound is a gritty business.

     But Orange Mound knows good times too. It was once a thriving community for middle income African Americans who owned homes and businesses. The community is the home to elite athletes and scholars. Music legends played the Handy Theatre and civil rights icons like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. patronized Orange Mound businesses. Because of these attributes and more, there is a palpable pride in the neighborhood felt most intensely in conversation with people who have lived and attended school here. This group of Orange Mound residents won’t surrender their home to the plagues or poverty, crime, and blight.

     We hear the same sentiment from the women at My Cup of Tea. There is not a hint of resignation in their voices. No one has given up on the prospect of a thriving Orange Mound. The sentiment is more than “lip service” as some have purchased homes in the neighborhood, rather than moving. Others aspire to purchase a home in Orange Mound, rather than finding a way out. Each supports local businesses as often as they can, and some even volunteer for community organizations. Their goals to improve their own lives through employment at My Cup of Tea extend beyond their urgent needs to their neighbors and the Orange Mound neighborhood.

    So, this September 1st, please excuse us if we celebrate the 901 with a little extra enthusiasm. We’re not bragging…much. We’re just excited for all that we know Memphis and Orange Mound can be.

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