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The Best Laid Schemes Sometimes Require a Pivot

The Best Laid Schemes Sometimes Require a Pivot

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. – Proverbs 16:9


Four and a half years ago, My Cup of Tea adopted a strategic plan to serve as the road map for the next five years. We interviewed leaders, volunteers, donors, and employees. We analyzed strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. We imagined and wrote down ambitious goals and the objectives necessary to achieve them. Then we estimated the costs associated and drafted a pro forma. Finally, we fashioned the pages to be aesthetically pleasing and printed and bound it at FedEx Office. That’s pretty close to textbook planning process.

But in the words of the poet Robert Burns:

“The best laid schemes of mice and men,

Go often awry.”

This is not to say that the plan was completely wrong or that there were no successes. In fact, sales of tea increased very closely to the projected rate; we transitioned to a larger facility we call The House; and secured record-setting support from local foundations and corporations. And these are just a few of our “gold stars.”

But we missed the mark too. We were almost certain My Cup of Tea products would be on the shelves of our local Whole Foods or Kroger. That didn’t happen.

We anticipated the steady and competent leadership of two employees who were in supervisory roles. Instead, neither are with us today.

We expected that most of the women working with us would transition to full-time jobs elsewhere since that was a primary component of our mission. What we learned, though, is that most didn’t want to leave My Cup of Tea. They valued the safety, the break from the chaos of their lives and the authentic sisterhood more than the possibility of a full-time job. This is not to say they are content to work part-time and struggle to make ends meet, but after months or years on the job, they had reordered their priorities. So, we reordered ours.

Halfway through the implementation of our plan, we pivoted from a mission to transition women to full-time work away from My Cup of Tea to a strategy where women could work for as a long as they want. We “doubled-down” on serving them in ways beyond simply providing a paycheck. And we committed to trying to grow our tea business to a point that we could be the employer capable of sustaining full-time employees.

Now, we are writing a new plan for the next five years. But why, if we got so many things wrong in the original plan? Proverbs 21:5 tells us,

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.”

We desire abundance for the women at My Cup of Tea, not just economically, but in relation to equity, justice and the joy that comes from a deepening relationship with God.

Proverbs 15:22 says,

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

So, we have assembled a broader group of stakeholders that represent our leadership, employees, volunteers, donors, and the Orange Mound community to help us design this new road map.

In To a Mouse, Robert Burns’ fatalistic axiom about the plans of mice and men is born out of his lament that his plough has upended the home of this tiny field mouse. But Burns’ larger point is that the plans of humankind are made in vain since no one can know what will happen. He believes his own prospects to be dim based on his struggles in the past.

It is true that we can’t know what will happen in the future and that sometimes what does happen will be hard and even painful. But unlike Burns, we believe our plans have purpose, and we are not victims to fate. We trust in a God who establishes our steps and makes our paths straight.

So, we will plan our work, work our plan, and pivot as the Lord directs.

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A Forever Valentine

A Forever Valentine

     I recall Valentine’s Day class parties when I was in lower school. We all decorated cardboard shoe boxes with red and pink construction paper hearts and made a slit in the lid for classmate mail.  We were in an all- girl school, so the messaging was perfunctory and silly.

     “I’m hooked on you”, for example, with a fishhook dangling before a small fish.

     “You are such a cutie! “You are a berry good friend”, with a picture of a bowl of fruit. And so, it went. Those were the days of innocence and neighborhood friendships.

      Last week we had a round table discussion among our ladies at the House, regarding sex, romance, husbands, boyfriends, and marriage. Many of the women who spoke up wished they had “woke up” to the warnings in their youth by their mothers and grandmothers.  Eros, the love that can draw us into romance without commitment, and sex without promise, is advertised ubiquitously, and alleged to be the ultimate love. However, it comes with small print directions and warnings. Frequently what today’s society calls love has brought beautiful children into the world for our community yet left many as single moms parenting and providing for several children alone while living dependent on family, friends, and government assistance.

     In the New Testament, there are four Greek words used to describe different types of love – Eros, Storge, Philleo, and Agape.

     Eros, or romantic love, is what we discussed last week. And when Eros evaporated, the trusted love of family called Storge helped keep the future hopeful and taught our friends how to make a way in hardship with real friends.  

     As many shared at the table, tears flowed. Two of our ladies were faithful to their unfaithful husbands and cared for them in failing health and terminal illness.  They buried them with dignity, though their own was lost.  One has had multiple fathers to her children, and they all are missing in the parenting of them.  Two have husbands without work and young children at home.  One gave birth to a child after being raped at age 12.  Some of the women were sharing for the first time.

      We cultivate Storge in Orange Mound. We women are sturdy, and we are strongest when working together in community. We all have invisible Valentine boxes with lids.  Encouragement comes in multiple forms as we invest our resources compassionately through the small, concealed openings in the box. Allowing others to know our heartaches, opens the box covered in tattered Valentine hearts and cheap expressions that belie the truth of the struggles of single moms. Faith in Christ changes the tattered to the eternal.

       We befriend, support, equip, and promote the ladies in our neighborhood.  We try to absorb the pain from the wounds of the past by listening, sharing the burdens, grieving, and resourcing. Whether financial, medical, housing, educational or some other unmet need, we intervene when the ladies want us to, and help in the best ways we can. Our moms are revered at The House. The struggles of raising kids in the inner city are myriad and the fears of gun violence in their neighborhoods are palpable. Crime abounds with hair-trigger anger among the frustrations of poverty and the pandemic. We pray for all with unconditional support and grace.

       For those who have believed in Jesus, our Savior, husband, and father to our children, we have become sisters in faith, and embraced Philleo.  We are a spiritual family. Philleo brings honor and accountability to our friendships and motivates us to serve together and help all who have lost their bearings. Family always has priority, whether in security or need.  Our Prince, The Prince of Peace, opens the finest of loving relationships among individuals in this family that also packages and sells lovely teas.

       The evidence of the redemption of our past is in our assurance of the AGAPE love of our Lord.  He is Whom we serve and ultimately long to please.  We return Agape to Him, in part, by loving our neighbors as ourselves, those inside and outside the House at 3028 Carnes.

        For single moms, Jesus is their Bridegroom, Husband, and Comforter. For their children, He is their Shield and Defender, Protector and Provider. His Agape is contagious, irresistible, and available to us all.

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We Are 'The Resolute'

We Are 'The Resolute'

In 1880, Queen Victoria gifted a double pedestal partners’ desk to President Rutherford B. Hayes as a token of the friendship between the two countries. The desk is hand-crafted, sturdy, and ornate. It has been used by many presidents, and it has been present for the most consequential meetings and decisions in our country’s history. The desk is known as the “Resolute Desk” because it was fashioned from the timbers of a British vessel called The Resolute.

The Resolute Desk became known in popular culture when it was featured in the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets, starring Nicholas Cage. In the movie, the Resolute Desk was the location of a critical clue leading to a massive treasure hidden by the Free Masons. While the desk’s role in the movie is fanciful and compelling, its true story has more to teach us.

The British ship, The Resolute, was part of an Artic rescue expedition in 1852. The ship and its crew were sent to find Sir John Franklin who was lost trying to discover the Northwest Passage. The Resolute became lodged in the ice and was abandoned. It was understood that the ship would be hammered by the harsh elements and eventually sink never to be recovered. However, three years later, Captain James Buddington and the crew of the American vessel George Henry recovered The Resolute. Congress appropriated the funds to restore The Resolute and sent it home to Queen Victoria. Twenty-five years later, when The Resolute was decommissioned, Queen Victoria repurposed the ship to an arguably higher calling.

Those of us who have been at the House for a while – employees and volunteers – know that how we began or where we faltered does not define us or fill the final pages of our stories. In fact, Scripture is full of men and women who thought they knew their purpose, made poor decisions, but then were dramatically changed by God and employed for their life’s true purpose. Maybe the best example is the Apostle Paul, who believed his mission was to violently persecute Christians until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Most of us are like The Resolute. We sailed into the icy waters of this life with a purpose but discovered we couldn’t navigate them alone. Now, in our lives with My Cup of Tea, we understand that we are being radically changed and that our purpose is not what we imagined – from proud, boasting sailing vessel, to abandoned and broken, to a completely new creature. Even the word “resolute” morphed. In the fifteenth century, it was used to mean “dissolved,” “of loose structure,” or “morally lax.” Today, resolute means” admirably purposeful,” “determined,” and “unwavering.”

So, in this season of resolutions and new beginnings, we are resolute that our past mistakes will not define us, and that we have a Divine purpose. We will strive to serve God by loving one another and knowing this: “he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

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And Jesus Moved into the Neighborhood

And Jesus Moved into the Neighborhood

“…and Jesus moved into the neighborhood.”

John 1:14 in The Message, a version of Scripture by Eugene Peterson,


Two thousand years ago, Jesus arrived in Galilee.

“But when the time was right, God sent His Son, and a woman gave birth to him” Galatians 4:4


When the perfect time had arrived for His miraculous entry

records say that:

  • ½ the children in the Roman Empire died before reaching 10.
  • Leprosy, tuberculosis, parasites, abandonment, and starvation abounded.
  • Taxes were enormous, and a debtor could be tortured or sold into slavery.
  • Women were slaves and trafficked, as were children.
  • The Roman Empire was feared and hated.


     Fast forward and the time is right again. Those who have Christ in them, the Christians, have an invitation to come to the shores of need now. What has long ailed and stunted our Orange Mound Community has leeched into our surrounding city of Memphis and Shelby County


  • Homicides in our city are at a frightening peak, and the highest on record.
  • Many of our neighbors are especially vulnerable to the COVID pandemic.
  • Children have lost traction in education and are falling alarmingly behind.  
  • Oppression, depression, addiction, frustration abound this Season.
  • Drug abuse, gang crimes, and reckless driving endanger us all.

     Is it not the perfect time to send forth His Son in us?

     When Jesus walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee, He did not tamper with Caesar and the Roman government.  He paid His taxes, fed thousands, healed diseases, served, taught, and sacrificed.  He spent very little time in the Temple, and most of His time among the poor and disenfranchised. He touched the sick and brought direction to the lost.  He entered the broken neighborhoods, boarded up houses, and crowded living rooms.

     He opened our pathway to the Throne Room for everyone’s personal connection to the King of the Universe, The Almighty God, The Father and Creator of All things. Because of that, we in OM can bring our personal issues to the One who soothes the pain, smooths the path, and unravels the suffering.  He warms our winters, calms our storms, and brings bounty to our kitchen tables.  He does it through the hands and hearts of our volunteers, customers, and supporters.

      “In The Roman Empire a father could disown a biological child for any reason, but if he adopted a child, that one could never be disowned.” – Jim Dennison

     Our lovely Orange Mound ladies are adopted too.  As well, Jesus has adopted many of the children of our community because their fathers have abandoned them. Encouraged by the truth that Jesus is Father to the Fatherless, our mothers and grandmothers have embraced the opportunity to ensure their families of the powerful love of the Savior, who is irresistible and irreplaceable.  The ladies and volunteers joyfully live and speak the Gospel daily, and lives have been redeemed, families reunited, and dignity and value restored.

     We encourage you to come to “our earth” and participate, or perhaps you will listen carefully to the Lord and discover His landing spot for you.


Let all the earth rejoice, Our Savior has come.

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Essence of a Scavenger Hunt

Essence of a Scavenger Hunt

     Maybe you remember scavenger hunts from your youth-traipsing across the neighborhood or traversing the community crammed into someone’s car, racing to find the unique, the obscure, even the downright wacky. The winning team always would be awarded a “fabulous” prize that was never greater than the hard-earned privilege of gloating.

     Some scavenger hunts are more than a means to keep teenagers out of trouble on Saturday night. The collected trinkets represent what is special about a place and its people. A picture by the Elvis statue, a toothpick from Huey’s, a tombstone rubbing from Elmwood cemetery taken together tell a rich story about the evolution of our community.

     If you follow us on social media, you have seen videos of the My Cup of Tea women sharing personal stories, expressing their love for My Cup of Tea and their sisters, and promoting our latest products. They desire for customers and supporters to know them authentically, and they are proud of their work.

     At a recent filming, Bretta and some of her sisters expressed their desire to tell you about Orange Mound. What began as a brainstorm of places and people that My Cup of Tea customers and supporters should know morphed into the Orange Mound Online Scavenger Hunt.

     For the last five weeks, we have posted scavenger hunt clues to notable places in the neighborhood and then revealed the answers the following day. In each of these postings, a My Cup of Tea woman, an Orange Mound woman, tells the story.

     Rosalyn, who grew up across the street from Melrose High School, told us about her experience attending school there and the many notable alumni, like Larry Finch, Rochelle Stevens, Tony Pollard, and Pat Neely, to name just a few. She beamed with pride.

     Cheryl helped us better understand the breadth and depth of the Black church in Orange Mound by highlighting Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, one of the oldest in Memphis -preceding the founding of Orange Mound by seven years. Through the decades, Mt. Moriah and its leaders were instrumental in the Civil Rights movement.

     Cheryl also took us inside Orange Mound Grill, renowned for some of the best soul food in the city. On the day we visited, Ms. Daisy, who previously owned the restaurant was working. She is now “retired,” and her granddaughter owns the business, which has been serving the community for almost 80 years.

     Then Rosalyn leaned on her Melrose High School relationships and connected us to Esther Cook-Jones, a classmate and founder of Guns Down in Orange Mound. Esther told us about Orange Mound Park and how it thrived until neglect and criminal activity caused its decline. Through her organization’s efforts much of the park has been improved.

     Most recently, we met Britney Thorton, a My Cup of Tea board member, but also the founder of JUICE Orange Mound. An OM native and graduate of Baylor and Penn, Britney is helping the homeless, raising money for community projects, organizing neighborhood blocks all in a successful effort to involve residents in the community’s revitalization.

     And Orange Mound landmarks and stories don’t end there. There’s more to come.

     What the My Cup of Tea women want you to know is that their community matters. It’s important to the story of Memphis, to African Americans across the nation, and to the residents who live there.

     They want you to understand that they recognize their neighborhood has struggles right now with poverty and violence, but don’t you dare count Orange Mound out.

     And just like each woman was told the day she arrived at My Cup of Tea, no matter what has happened in your past, you are not irredeemable. Neither is Orange Mound.

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Reaping Joy

Reaping Joy

“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” – Psalm 126:5-6


     Often the hardships of the women at My Cup of Tea are described in these posts. The purpose is not to evoke a guilty response that compels the reader to buy more tea. Instead, the re-telling of these traumas underscores our genuine awe at what these women have overcome.

     There is a difference, though, in simply overcoming tragedy and moving beyond it while striving to also live with joy. Many of the women model this daily as evidenced by how they treat each other, their interactions with customers and volunteers, and by their countenances.

     Cool, for example, wears a smile frequently. When she’s not smiling, it’s because she is concentrating on each brush stroke applied to her latest refinishing job or meticulously edging the grass around the property. L. Cool is usually the first to speak.


“Good morning, young man!”

“Good afternoon, young lady!”

     As we’ve said before, L. Cool struggled with addiction, so much so that she gave up custody of her 4-year-old daughter. She put herself in rehab three times before getting clean. That was over twenty years ago. For most of us, these harrowing experiences would breed anger, bitterness, and resentment – a least a little. But if those natural feelings are inside, L. Cool, we’ve never seen them.

     We’ve all heard “it’s the little things,” but at the House that axiom is lived out. Recently, the women shared a chocolate chess pie for dessert. Cheryl loved it and asked for the recipe. The excitement in her voice was palpable when she received the recipe. Only a couple of days later, she had baked two pies for sharing. Her elation at receiving the recipe and baking the pies for her sisters was both obvious and infectious.

     Then there are birthdays at the House. Birthday joy radiates from the kitchen to the production rooms to the front porch and beyond. Everyone celebrates. The honoree is given a clothes pin to attach to her uniform. Reveling in her day, each woman, (and anyone else who happens to come through the house,) puts a $1, $5, $10, or sometimes more in the clothes pin. Yes, there’s cake and singing too, but what is remarkable is that women who have so little materially reach sacrificially into their pockets and shower each other with joy.

     Everything is not always rainbows and roses at the House. If you read this blog, you know that the women are faced with trials almost daily. We’ve experienced more than our share of deaths in the last 6 years. Physical and mental health challenges are ongoing. Pipes burst, cars breakdown, and sometimes the pantry is empty. And yet there is still laughter, celebration, and joy.


     Because the My Cup of Tea women understand that when it seems too hard to find joy in this life, they can celebrate God’s promises for the next life.

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A Graveyard Marker-Project 1890

A Graveyard Marker-Project 1890

     On August 20, 2021, The Orange Mound Heritage Association and the Orange Mound Arts Council brought to the attention of our city, and more importantly to the Orange Mound Community, the first names of slaves who had lawfully served on the vast 5000-acre Deaderick Plantation before and during the Civil War (Their sur-names are lost if they had them.)

     In 1832, John G. Deaderick listed in his wealth and inventory, along with wagons and plows, 30 men and women slaves between the ages of 2 and 60. The enormous statue of Confederate officer, likewise a slave owner, in a public park that bore his name, was removed the month the monument for Memphis slaves was erected in Orange Mound.

     A reverent ceremony signaled, for those of us attending, the gratitude and respect for men and women who had been stripped of gratitude and respect. They, the new heroes, likely would have been struck in disbelief had they a notion then that 150 plus years later a small crowd would memorialize them with a noble monument next to crumbling Deaderick head stones within the fenced-in family cemetery.

     These common names, Fillis, Peter, Henry, Jessie, Griffin, Cealey , Mary, Milly, lsaac, Sharlotte, Maddison, Peggy, Frank, Randle, Pascal, Gennie, Manuel, Amy, Sarah, Monroe, Jane, Burrell, Washington, Tom, Martha, Violet, Westley, Julia, Katey, and Duncan were uncommonly lauded in silent testimony of their history of struggle.  The legacy of these 30, rather than built on known, notable accomplishments, is even more cherished as it was birthed in painful subjugation.

     Their actual graves were most likely never marked by more than a rock or stick.  Now, the foundational DNA of Orange Mound’s first residents on a slave -based plantation, has been noted, preserved, and valued. Marking their place, establishes early placemaking for Shelby County and the coordinates of the boundaries of Orange Mound.

     This community has loyal pride in its origins, yet little recorded history exists.  Their story has too many gaps in the storyline. The chronicle is told in pass-down fashion with imagination and pride.  The slaves are among the ancestors.

     Laying to rest with dignity and honor those the long-dead slave owners called property maybe helps to bring healing and a new day. Perhaps the scant history recorded, saves Orange Mound residents from reliving the brutality of slavery known and recorded elsewhere.

     All who have roots here continue to hope for a tree -lined neighborhood reminiscent of the original Orange Mound. Pulling up the stumps of decayed trees across the entire neighborhood is a good place to begin.

“Begin afresh and plant new trees” is in the chorus they sing now.

     Little remains from the first scratch in the dirt of 1889.  The homes were designed on conventional foundations and made of hardwood, but not wood hard enough.  

     A friend of mine has preserved a rusted iron water pipe for the Orange Mound Museum yet to be formalized. She discovered it when new plumbing was installed.  It is a piece of art sculpture to her. A tangible artifact most would see as a reason for a tetanus shot. It is a beautiful thing to the beholder of nostalgic reflections.

     Oral history has been the source for African Americans in Orange Mound and some of the detail has been lost with time. What is known is that the wealth of the Deadrick family was built on the backs of slaves and the thriving community that was the original Orange Mound was built by their descendants through ingenuity and hard work. That Orange Mound is still remembered by a few.

     There are scores of us still living in Memphis who descended from the founding fathers. We must reckon with our past as well. Our ancestors participated in that portion of our nation’s ignominious history.

     On that rainy day in August, I was the one weeping at the cemetery ceremony.  My neighborhood friends were rejoicing in dance and song.  Forgiving the atrocities done against their ancestors is their heart-filled choice. Mine is to apologize for those from whom we descend, seek forgiveness, and resolve to pursue authentic reconciliation.  I, and people like me, must do our part to bridge the current national racial divide.

     Orange Mound is leading courageously once again. There is renewed hope because those who were in the graveyard with me have forgiven us and begun a fresh start.  Redemption defines historic Orange Mound.

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The Luxury of Dignity

The Luxury of Dignity

There is dignity in work.

Despite the popular narrative, most people desire employment that puts to good use their God-given abilities, skills, and talents and allows them to leverage labor for wages to buy food, pay rent, and provide the basics for their families.

For sure there are those who prefer to reap the benefits earned by others, but our experience has been that those are the minority, not the majority. What is true is that desire and necessity are rarely compatible in Orange Mound.

Even after living lives saturated with profound hardships and disappointments, the women at My Cup of Tea still dream. They dream of owning a business, building a house, providing a college education to their children, or having a real, out-of-town vacation. Realizing those dreams requires resources – connections, training, and, of course, money. They desire these things and to earn the wages to have them. But necessity has something to say about it.

One of the ladies was involved in a car accident last year. For the record, she wasn’t at fault. The tenuously operating vehicle was her lifeline to work and her special needs granddaughter’s school. Thankfully, she wasn’t injured, but the car was totaled. The insurance paid her a paltry sum for the late model, high mileage transport. While not enough to purchase another dubious automobile, the payment was enough to reduce the amount of SNAP (food stamps) she receives. Now, she is faced with the decision to work less so she can adequately feed her family.

In another, more recent incident, one of our employees received a letter stating that the government could not pay her disability benefits for a previous six-month period, because her income from working during those months exceeded the government’s arbitrary threshold. Since the benefits have been paid, she may now owe the government. This employee has a legitimate disability that has been diagnosed by medical professionals on multiple occasions. She cannot sit for long periods, must have frequent breaks, and functions daily with substantial chronic pain. To keep her monthly benefits from a system she paid into throughout much of her life, she is only allowed to make $1260 per month. That’s $15,120 annually. Anything above this amount, the government calls “Substantial Gainful Activity.”

This is where necessity decks desire.

There is no intent to make a political statement. It is simply fact that the sincerest efforts by the My Cup of Tea women, and others like them, to be self-sustaining are stifled by policies birthed out of fear that someone might cheat or get more than we think they deserve. The predictable result is that working poor are caught between the “rock” of necessity and the “hard place” of desire never really getting ahead.

What is left for us to do at My Cup of Tea is to continue to stand in the gap and use our volunteers’ connections, mercy, and grace to tackle the gigantic inequities our Sisters confront daily. We must continue to pay a living wage and strive to increase tea sales. If we can do that, we can achieve the audacious goal of offering full-time work to those who want it. Full-time hours at fair pay opens the door to safe housing, reliable transportation, and quality childcare.

Until policy and opportunity combine for the benefit of people, like the women at My Cup of Tea, dignity will remain a luxury for the working poor.

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Sunflowers from Momma D

Sunflowers from Momma D

     Debbie Hert entered Orange Mound, galvanized our mission, and won the fragile hearts of our women of Orange Mound 6 years ago.

     She is a tea expert and had managed My Cup of Tea for the brilliant Mary Beth Bryce who founded the company for profit.  When we purchased MCOT and redefined it as a non-profit and a mission, we were in “deep tea weeds” not knowing producers, blenders, or flavors.  Debbie, a quintessential servant manager, trained us on the basics, and kept the company afloat as we employed women of Orange Mound to build our company’s brand and outreach.

     The mission of MCOT is to embrace, serve, and dream with Orange Mound women and then befriend and speed them on their way to discovering their purpose as mothers, grandmothers, neighbors, entrepreneurs, and employees. Faith in Christ is the foundational precept.  Landing Debbie as the manager-in-chief was a gift of God for us because her love for the Lord is her way of life and witness. She glorifies Him by loving us and guiding us as He guides her. 

     The majority of our employees don’t have a church home, so we have our version of church daily.  Debbie can preach.  Recently, she shared a visual of inspiration from our garden in the backyard.  Sunflowers were in a variety of postures. Several were faced Heavenward, and others were bowed toward the ground. Debbie drew the illustration as a mandate for us to look up at the Father for our dose of hope and joy and assurance, and then explained the flowers that were facing the ground were heavily pollinated and were praying. The prayers of the righteous avail much.  The seeds of our prayers would bear fruit in time. Debbie then took us out to see the garden that had given her the visual and spirit-filled illustration.

    Our times are so very heavy. There is a pall over our city, our country and our world. Most of our ladies are unaware of the deep needs beyond our zip code, as personal tragedy is a way of life in Orange Mound.  As I have stated before, all deal with poverty, gun violence, public school disfunction, and co-morbidity issues.  Fires in the West, Afghanistan’s tragedies, and hospital staffing alarms are not top-of-mind.  Debbie alerts us to ensure we participate in the battles of others around us through prayer.  Most of our ladies have deepened their faith in Christ and grown in love for the Bible.  Some are holding a Bible with assurance on how to navigate the promises of God for the first time.  She has a mature command of the Scriptures and a ready answer of a verse for the moment.

     Debbie also plans our production pace, selects new teas, cultivates new resources, and designs our retail spaces. Debbie answers the phone with a lilt in her voice, assures the customer of the quality of our product, and our ability to deliver on time.  She plans the day for us all with our capacity and our potential in mind.  As we are as much ministry as we are a business, we often have enormous gaps in our workforce and regrouping the day’s production rate is imperative.  If we lack hands, Debbie steps up in the production to fill in.  She never eats or sleeps as far as I can see. 

     All of the ladies call her Momma D.  For many, she is who they have missed in an ideal mother who nurtures and encourages her daughters. She epitomizes the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 - “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” (v. 29)

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Why Tea?

Why Tea?

     From sea level to altitudes of about 7,000 feet, the world’s tea – the second most popular drink behind water-is cultivated primarily in Asia. Americans consume twice as much coffee as tea and nearly four times more soft drinks. Knowing these few facts, it may seem odd that tea is the product we chose to sell in an urban community in Memphis, Tennessee. For sure, there are those moments of doubt, but six years into the journey we have learned packaging and selling tea fits us to, well…a T.

The Market vs. The Metaphor

     Assisting women in Orange Mound with employment posed a number of challenges. Many of those most desperately in need of a job lacked authentic job skills. They possessed talents and aptitudes for sure, but any significant employment history or employment-related proficiency was rare. Any opportunity we provided had to include roles consistent to the level of ability and knowledge the women brought with them – at least initially.

     Time was a factor too. Empty cupboards, dark apartments and houses, malfunctioning vehicles and some that didn’t run at all created a heightened sense of urgency. Years or months of training was not practical. Women needed work now.

     The chance to buy Mary Beth Bryce’s tea business met our initial criteria. The business could provide meaningful jobs for women that could be learned in a short timeframe. Mary Beth had established relationships with tea blenders and other reliable vendors. She also had a loyal customer core that would continue to buy tea as long as the quality remained high. Most important, Debbie Hert, who operated the tea business for Mary Beth, agreed to remain as the operations manager.

     It is probably hindsight, but tea is an apropos metaphor for the women who work for My Cup of Tea and the support we hope to provide. Tea in its final form, with the steam and aroma wafting upward from the cup is all at once soothing, elegant, complex, and reassuring. Until you have experienced your first really good cup of tea, you won’t know these things.

     Before it can be harvested, tea (Camellia sinensis) must be grown for three years – a lifetime in agriculture. Commodities like corn and soybeans can be harvested in as little as 60 days. The women at My Cup of Tea did not arrive here because of a single missed utility bill, one-time drug use in their youth, or by witnessing a single act of violence. No, the women find themselves here because of years of abuse, neglect, and poverty.

     But, despite the long growing season, tea leaves are delicate, so delicate they are harvested by hand because the machines break and tear them. This is not to suggest that the women at My Cup of Tea are weak, their emotions and psyches are delicate, but they are strong as evidenced by all they have survived.

     When the tea is finally harvested, it is not ready for market. Most teas are withered. From the website teaepicure.com, withering is controlled by “monitoring humidity, temperature, and air flow over time.” This process allows for the development of aroma and flavor, which is what we all love about tea. Here, we monitor, in a sense, ancillary factors in the lives of the women. Through growing authentic relationships, we listen and learn about how the women struggle, what they fear, and what needs are being unmet, then we adjust.

     After withering, tea is dried to enhance shelf life. The goal is to reduce the moisture content of the leaves to 2-3%. Enhancing shelf-life, that is what we do at My Cup of Tea. Our mission is to help women overcome poverty, improve the quality of their lives, and establish a spiritual and economic foundation to sustain them. We provide jobs, job skills, authentic relationships that become a network, and a faith built on the Bible.

     There are more practical products to sell and arguably more marketable skills to teach. But we believe that we didn’t choose tea, tea chose us.

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Battlefields and Blessings

Battlefields and Blessings

Jane Hampton Cook is the author of a series of books titled Battlefields and Blessings that recounts stories of the faith of soldiers and military leaders engaged in our nation’s major conflicts. In one passage in her compilation from the Revolutionary War, Cook describes the heroic efforts of Colonel John Trumbull at the Battle of Newport.

Briefly, Trumbull was attempting to warn other regiments who were retreating from the battle that the British were not satisfied with retreat. Their army and German mercenaries were pursuing the Continental Army in hopes of decimating their forces. Trumbull, while riding with great urgency, lost his hat and tied a white handkerchief around his head. The white “flag” made Trumbull an easy target and bullets whizzed past him on all sides as he rode. Despite the “headdress,” Trumbull completed his mission unscathed.

Trumbull marveled, “With this headdress, duty led me to every point where danger was to be found, and I escaped without the slightest injury.”

Cook wrote Trumbull had encountered the “mystery of survival.”

Lately, we have been on a raging battlefield in Orange Mound, as if the trauma and tragedy previously experienced by the women at My Cup of Tea was negligible. One of our dear women received the worst news a parent can hear. Her adult daughter died unexpectedly. The circumstances of her death make it no more or less tragic for her mother who is left wondering how she outlived her child.

The same week, another of our dear sisters lost her biological sister for whom she had been caring. And if that were not enough, in the midst of funeral planning and mourning, two of our sisters and a volunteer were diagnosed with the D variant of COVID-19.

For more than a year through disinfecting, social distancing and masking, our ranks avoided the virus. While other organizations and businesses struggled over the last year, we thrived. Now some of our sisters are hospitalized and others quarantined putting a strain on families and operations at the House.

Why us and why now?

The mystery of survival remains just that – a mystery. In the 6 years we have been in Orange Mound, our My Cup of Tea family has experienced what some would say is more than our share of disappointment, struggle, and tragedy. But we have experienced blessings too.

We have witnessed two women purchase their first homes; others are having their homes repaired and refurnished. Another gained custody of her granddaughter. Everyone has enough food to eat, including a lunch provided by volunteers daily – a fact that was not true when we started. Each of us has a cadre of sisters who pray together, love, and bear one another’s burdens. And the Lord continues to provide new customers and donors that allow to keep supporting Orange Mound women.

Upon completing his mission and realizing how miraculous it was to be alive, Trumbull exclaimed, “I thank thee, Oh thou Most High, for thou hast covered my head in the day of battle!” (Psalm 140:7)

God too has covered our heads in the past, and He will surely bring us through this battle.

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Authentic Neighborliness

Authentic Neighborliness

     A visibly ravaged and handicapped man with a message board is at the corner of my local grocery store parking lot. His sign says a little about himself and his need: $$$.  Throughout several hours of the day, he boldly approaches stopped cars in traffic, further endangering himself.

     Often the people in cars around me will give something to him, maybe a sandwich, cash, water bottle or a piece of paper with hope and directions to a social service. That kind response is gratifying to the giver and perhaps silences the children in the car who have asked, “Why are we not helping that poor man?”

     I have often asked myself, “What would Jesus do in my driver’s seat?” I can’t stop long enough to build a relationship, nor can I share with him the Gospel through my open car window. “Jesus loves you, this I know” is vapid rhetoric if Jesus in me does not love him in action.

     The parable of the Good Samaritan warns me to not be the priest, who is in a rush and suspicious of the true need, nor the Levite, who looks the other way.


Is this poor man my neighbor?


Is anyone in need my neighbor?


“When we take the time to understand why someone is struggling, we are more able to empathize with them and be of help. When we make snap judgments or assume that we have all the necessary information before we do, we’re likely to only make matters worse.” I read from Jim Dennison’s The Daily Article today.

     Too often I look briefly at the message board and not at the man. I judge him by ignoring him.

     The Good Samaritan in the familiar parable in Luke 10:25-37 covers the naked stranger who has been assaulted. He medicates and binds his wounds, carries him to safety, and pays for his lodgings. There is risk and sacrifice in the Samaritan’s actions.

      Bretta, in Orange Mound, is my neighbor though we live 8 miles apart. She lives in a food desert, and a place of many more neglected needs.  Her ability to rectify the problems in her midst is mostly absent.  She does not want to ask for help. She has no message board.  It has taken me 4 years to build an authentic relationship with her and grasp a better understanding of her need, wants, and what she is willing to let me participate in helping solve.  She is sacrificing pride in allowing me into her home, and she is willing to trust me in bringing others I trust to help bring her home up to code and livability.

      With her permission, I called The Collins Company of Memphis, which has stepped in, assisted, professionally supervised, repaired pipes and wiring, and is addressing structural damages, veneers, and cosmetic needs.  Volunteers she trusts at My Cup of Tea are accumulating any of the missing furniture and appliances she needs to live securely and comfortably.  Very soon, Bretta‘s home will be stable,  and  she will have a beautiful  fresh start to maintain it.

Her story is a chapter in the unwritten book about the women who work for us at the tea company.  They are all lovely images of God, and each is hard-working. Together they are a distinguished and dignified group of single women, single mothers, and grandmothers.  None of them carry a message board, nor do they ask for us to fill in the gaping holes and insufficiencies in their homes. Most rent small, 2- or 3-bedroom, one bath homes for their large families.  They can only afford the meager and dilapidated real estate in Orange Mound. We are on mission and conviction to help all of them eventually be homeowners, but in the meantime we are neighboring with love in action for those we work with daily and consider members of our family. 

I did not know, and most likely you aren’t aware, that those who rent from slumlords are only provided a shell of a home in which to live.    

  • All appliances are up to the renter to find and install.
  • Grass and tree maintenance is up to the renter.
  • Pest (think rats) control is the renter’s problem.
  • Urgent needs, such as leaks, weak flooring or broken pipes are typically ignored.
  • Broken windowpanes creating more drafts and exposure are not the landlord’s problem.
  • Rent is due the first of the month with no excuses.

      Without an oven or a proper refrigerator, all fresh food box donations, purchased meat and produce quickly perish. Without a washer and dryer, purchased and donated clothes are worn until dirty and discarded. Air conditioning is either fresh air through an open window, which is ill-advised in crime-saturated areas, or a window unit, which can easily be dislodged and stolen, if not framed with a cage that is an additional cost and difficult to install.

     I am writing a message board on their behalf.

 “Mature, responsible, and employed ladies of Orange Mound
need $$ and helping hands to live decently
and securely in her (their) neighborhood.”


     We are establishing a “HOUSING FUND” for our employees.  You may donate through our website here or send a check to My Cup of Tea. Please designate your contribution for “housing fund” in the "special instructions" area online or in the memo line of your check. You will receive a receipt for your tax records.

     All of the contributions will be used to purchase appliances and shore up the decay in the houses that are rented.  Though the ladies have been patient for years, their living conditions are unacceptable.  They have had no voice or respect to complain. Many of our volunteers and customers have generously helped our 3 homeowners and are inspiring our friends and many employees who rent to do likewise.  As well, some local banks are offering to coach in securing low interest loans for the ladies who are ready to move out and upward toward decent affordable home ownership in Orange Mound.

     If you haven’t discovered a neighbor in need where you live, then we welcome you to join our neighborhood.  The needs are identified and solvable, but they are also great.  

     As Mr. Rogers would say, “won’t you be my neighbor”?

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