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Steering Wheel or Spare Tire?

Steering Wheel or Spare Tire?

“Marketing” and “Development” are corporate words for saying I sell tea and raise money to support the work at My Cup of Tea. Because we are bursting at the seams at The House with packaging and shipping activities, my work is primarily performed from my home office. But about once per week, I have the privilege of driving into Orange Mound and engaging with the ladies of My Cup of Tea.

At a recent meeting at The House, we were steadily ticking off the items on our agenda when we were unexpectedly interrupted. One of the employees came through the door at her normal time, but not for the purpose of work. She held the arm of her brother who gingerly shuffled across the hardwood floor trembling with each step. Several of the women stopped what they were doing, and the employee said,

“I brought my brother here today because he needs prayer. Will y’all pray for him now?”

Without hesitation, the women gathered in the main room where Rick and Carey Moore, My Cup of Tea’s founders, Debbie, our operations manager, and I were meeting. They didn’t ask if they could gather there when we had finished. They didn’t ask that we excuse the intrusion, nor should they have asked. Their matter was an urgent one that far outranked anything we were discussing. They invited us to join them in prayer, but none of us was asked to lead the prayer. The women had it covered.

We learned that this sick man, not really very old, had suffered from a stroke and previously spent months in the hospital recovering. He had been allowed to come home to his sister’s care, though he could do little for himself and had difficulty speaking. The stroke and the ensuing battle to recover was known among the women, and they had prayed for this man’s recovery for a long time, but this day was different.

He was there in person asking for prayer from people he didn’t know very well, but whom he had been told would pray for him. The specific request was that he would receive the financial support he needed to pay for his basic living and medical expenses since obviously he was disabled and not capable of working. His benefits had become the victim of government “red tape” and though he couldn’t verbally articulate it, the desperation was evident in his eyes.

His sister seated him at the head of the long, varnished table. I kept my seat, but the women encircled him and those that were able placed a hand on his shoulders or back. Someone asked Diane to lead the prayer, and boy did she. She spoke directly and reverently to God. Her words were filled with passion and genuine faith that God would answer. And after each entreaty, the women’s chorus would exclaim, “Yes, Lord,” “Please Lord,” and “Amen.”

After several minutes the prayer concluded. I felt tired, but relieved, as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders though the burden prayed for was not even mine. The man’s countenance had changed, too. He smiled, thanked the ladies as best as he could, and gratefulness, not desperation was the message in his eyes.

I don’t know how God has answered or is continuing to answer that prayer, but I have thought about the prayer and the experience often. Praying together and studying the Bible are strictly voluntary at My Cup of Tea. There is no requirement to share the same beliefs to work there, and no one is judged who opts out, though there is a standing invitation.

But there is one thing you can’t opt out of – being prayed for.

The women of My Cup of Tea pray regularly, fervently, and live by the command in Galatians 6:2 to “bear one another’s burdens.” They don’t have to know your burdens because they know that God knows them. They pray for each other, for our volunteers, and for a restoration of their community.

Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch, Christian author famously asked, "Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?" The women of My Cup Tea have both hands on the wheel.

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Healing in Lament

Healing in Lament

         The genesis of the Japanese Kintsugi Art genre was over 600 years ago. In the repair of a broken vessel, gold is applied, and the original becomes of more value.  Briefly, I recognized the courage of our ladies and their similarities to Kintsugi and their “beauty from ashes” stories in our April Newsletter. The traumatic events in the lives of our ladies have not wounded them beyond repair as one might think. Pain and brokenness are common to humans.  In most cases, our heartaches are born from inevitable loss, poor choices, or tragedy. In the life stories of the My Cup of Tea ladies, those are also familiar, but other traumas include rape, incest, murder, shootings, domestic violence, and assaults.

         Counseling and therapy are luxuries even among the privileged. Most times, professional guidance is too expensive and illusive for the majority of our employees who live in our often dangerous neighborhood of Orange Mound. Not as a substitute for professional mental health treatment, but as a salve for some of the pain the ladies cope with daily, I was hopeful, but ill-equipped to offer a type of Kintsugi to our ladies at the tea company. I delayed, and my procrastination and the tyranny of addressing immediate needs proved providentially a blessing. The delays allowed me to identify Tracy Sigmon Shipman, a treasured friend, who had studied Kintsugi, designed several repairs, and  was eager to share her experience.
As she meditated over 6 weeks of prayer and preparation, I stirred some interest among several of our ladies and challenged them to sign up for her visits.

         Last week 5 MCOT ladies timidly stepped across the line of caution, shame, and privacy and introduced themselves to Tracy. She was equipped with tools, tips, time, and tenderness. There was a trust factor necessary for them to individually unveil the covered past and pain.

         Step 1 for them was to choose a beautiful plate, and it was easily accomplished. On the table, clean and flawless, 5 plates were placed in front of trembling hands holding a ball hammer. The first encounters of hammer to plate were gentle taps until Tracy said “harder, hit them with force,” and all the plates fractured. Tracy explained that the point on the plate of hardest assault would spider out in many connected wounds on the plate.  The significance was obvious.

         Step 2 was the methodical replacement of one piece joining the one situated next to it, slowly.  The ladies mixed epoxy glue, and with feather strokes of a brush loaded with glue, built back in order the damaged pieces. They moved too fast, the glue didn’t hold, and all plates either collapsed or released major and minor fragments.  Life parallels our need to repair plates, and our lives too quickly. The dialogue at the table was original and transformative.

         Step 3 was the strategic and delicate sanding and buffing of the hardened glue.  The plate was once again intact, sort of, and the cracks were hardened, but harsh. What a picture of all of us that is. One of the ladies paused, tears pooled, and said “this is a very spiritual experience for me”.  All nodded. A bond among the ladies was evidently growing, and Tracy continued to soothe us with Scriptures from the Psalter. Lament is the subject of 1/3 of the Psalms and was in rich supply throughout the workshop week. Tracy spoke truth and hope with love.

         In Step 4 they were each handed a tool to push powdered gold into the cracks. This required a surgeon’s touch but brought the burnished cracks to their illumining gloss.  Carefully and with reflection, each of the ladies began to share the story of her plate.

 “These 5 cracks, I have covered in gold are my 5 children.  This one stubborn piece at the top is my son.  He has resisted my discipline, broken my rules too many times, and caused me anger, shame, and hopelessness.  I am not going to let up or let go”.  She continued by asking us to continue to support her in her pursuit for what is best for him. “This plate story is a promise to me that he is God’s child, and He will see me through it and my son will grow to be a righteous man of God.  Amen.”

           Another woman, one of our newest employees uncovered her wounds of late in her plate’s story of her life.  “I have lost 3 precious family members to death in 4 months.”  With a choking voice, she continued,” there are 3 major cracks all joined to a small dime-sized hole here in the middle. That hole is my broken heart. It requires extra glue filler, and the gold that covers it is more obvious.” She allowed us into her story to help her repair her grieving heart and assist in carrying the shadows of frustrated loss.

         Soon their 5 plates will be displayed, and in the presentation to the co-workers, each of the first 5 will tell their plate parable. I hope all of our employees will want to participate in the profound experience that a burden shared is ½ the load. Joy comes in time and is quickened in community. A leap of faith in opening our wounds of complaint to trusted companions has begun in the beautiful activity of Kintsugi on the corner of Semmes and Carnes. We lament to find the hope of recovery and trust.

         Grief abounds, but grace abounds all the more. Lament is pain in prayer that leads to trust. Though we live in a world broken by sin, lament invites us to take our pain to trusted companions and our Savior. Our path reaffirms the process that we are more valuable because of not in spite of our sorrows and grief. We have 15 beautiful women who are growing, giving, and glowing in the Refiner’s grasp and His loving application of pure gold.

 Amen and amen.

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Let's All Blend In

Let's All Blend In

     From the beginning, we have taken pride in the fact that the tea we sell comes from some of the world’s best blenders with the expertise to concoct almost any flavor imaginable. The perfect cup of tea comes together when all the ingredients are blended expertly -- premium teas, organic fruit and nut pieces, carefully dried herbs and natural flavorings.

     At My Cup of Tea, we’ve learned that the ingredients to help women escape poverty are many, too. We provide jobs, training, mentors, and authentic relationships. When women need help beyond our expertise, we refer them to the clinicians and technicians who can help, and we often pay the bill. We by battle food insecurity by providing lunches daily and vegetable gardens for those who want them. We strive to impart knowledge about important aspects of living that are "common knowledge" to the resourced, but often new information for the low-income who have rarely left their neighborhoods.

     We have also learned that the blending of these ingredients is not the same for everyone. Metaphorically, everyone is seeking that “perfect cup of tea,” but the specific ingredients can be different from woman to woman. For instance, literacy among the women ranges from around college level to no better than sixth or seventh grade. Struggles with physical and mental health vary widely. Some have a strong grasp of managing a personal budget, while others come up short almost every month.

     While the blend may be different for each woman, the common ingredient is The House. The House is where they work, learn, eat, study, and pray. The impetus for coming to The House is to do their jobs preparing tea to sell to our customers across the country. Then we make time and prioritize the other needs while they are there.

     We must sell a lot of tea to have sufficient work for the women to do. Tea sales have grown by more than 30% per year since 2019, and we now have customers in 48 states. Yet, it might surprise customers and supporters to learn that about 65% of the revenue at My Cup of Tea comes from donations – donations from foundations, corporations, local government, and individuals. We could not support the operation without these funds, but most of the funding is only for one-year. So each year, we are seeking new funding to replace the previous year’s grants and donations. For long-term stability, My Cup of Tea needs a base of sustaining donors.

     That is why we invite you to join The Blend – a new network of monthly donors supporting My Cup of Tea. For as little as $10 per month, members of The Blend will play a vital role in sustaining our work and keeping hope alive for the women of Orange Mound. At any level of giving, every member will receive a members-only T-shirt and access to deals and discounts before the general public. At higher levels giving, members will be eligible for additional exclusive gifts and opportunities.

     To join or to learn more, visit The Blend page and please consider becoming a founding member.

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Graduating to Your Purpose

Graduating to Your Purpose

           This is the Graduation Season. Many of us have shared the exuberance of a race to the finish of a life assignment and then slowed to a walk and then to a stutter step with the next task less clear.  As we matriculate along the path, our parents have coached us, but now the comfy nest and free room and board are history. Into the wild blue yonder we are told to go. “Equipped,” they say. “You have all you need for the next chapter.”

            I never felt equipped to lead a mission into Orange Mound. Yet, I knew and now experience daily, the assurance that she whom God calls, He equips.

            God has used every aspect of who I am and where I came from to bring about the purpose He has for me. He factored in my background, level of education, parenting role of 5 children, and everything from my life experiences in teaching, short term mission work, domestic interests, my Spiritual gift, and many of my friends.

            As with the young men and women among us who are graduating, He led me into new territory.  Once committed, I was surrounded by unfamiliar faces who have since the beginning, taught me lessons I could have learned no other way.   At first, I thought I had read all of the right books and heard the orations of how to build a bridge to a different culture and socioeconomic community. I was confident the Lord was shepherding me and believed He would use my knowledge and reward my eagerness.  I can now look back over the last 10 years and gasp at my naivete, blunders, and how little I knew. Now, I am ever more grateful for how faithful He has been to override my mistakes with His grace.  He has led skilled and gifted men and women to walk with me.  He has brought lovely and courageous women to work with me in the tea company.  He has broadened our reach and strengthened our grasp of His mission on the corner of a busy street in a neighborhood to which I am now devoted.

            As for you, He is at work as well. He will get you to exactly where you need to be. As He did for Paul the Apostle, Daniel the Prophet, Esther the Queen, Deborah the Judge, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and countless more.  And it’s worth remembering that none of these “Biblical heroes and heroines” were powerful or influential people of their day.

           What He continues to do for the ladies of Orange Mound, He will do again. He will use your background, your education, your past, and everything you have accumulated.  He will lead you to places with strange sounding names and unfamiliar faces.  His face, however, will be more visible than ever before. His voice will be more audible, and His presence will be worth it all.

            Don’t dare miss your opportunity to trust His path for your purpose in His Kingdom. He promises all of the equipment and equippers you will need to step forward. He will do the work and give you the diploma.
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Casseroles for the Bereaved. Secret Santa for the Poor.

Casseroles for the Bereaved. Secret Santa for the Poor.

     When someone dies in the South, Southerners know exactly what to do.

     Make a casserole.

     In fact, as we age and experience death more frequently, we keep at least two in the freezer at all times.

     While our motive to comfort is authentic, does the bereaved person really need or want a casserole? Maybe instead she needs someone to clean the kitchen mess created by the food that was delivered; or to take her kids to play, so she can have time to grieve alone.

     For many, caring for the poor follows a similar pattern. At Christmas, we solicit toy donations for delivery by a secret Santa. We fill red plastic tubs with “needs” provided by anonymous organizers at church. What if a mother desires the dignity of purchasing the gifts for her children, but can’t because the family car needs a repair? What if we paid to repair the care, so she can buy those gifts?

     These are the kinds of lessons that are hard to learn when our hearts are in the right place. But they are lessons we must heed if we genuinely desire to alleviate poverty.

     When Carey and Rick Moore founded My Cup of Tea, it was because the overt needs in the community were jobs. They purchased the tea company and began hiring women from Orange Mound to package and sell tea. It didn’t take very long, though, before they began to discover a seemingly bottomless pit of unspoken needs not being met.

     Steve Corbett, co-author of the best-seller, When Helping Hurts says this:

     “If we reduce human beings to being simply physical—as Western thought is prone to do—our poverty-alleviation efforts will tend to focus on material solutions. But if we remember that humans are spiritual, social, psychological, and physical beings, our poverty-alleviation efforts will be more holistic in their design and execution.”

     At My Cup of Tea, we strive to be more holistic, but by “holistic” we don’t mean every unmet need is being fulfilled. Instead, we are intentional about considering the spiritual, social, and psychological as well as the physical. We are continuing to employ new approaches to discovering how we can assist Orange Mound women in the ways they need and want.

     Every spring, we survey our customers to understand how we can improve. While gathering that data, we also survey our employees. The surveys are anonymous and administered by a third-party. No one in leadership or management knows how anyone answers, and co-workers only know if they share with one another. The typical questions about job satisfaction and process improvement are part of the drill. But we also dig deeper. We ask if the ladies have unmet needs My Cup of Tea can address. We probe to learn what more My Cup of Tea could do to support them in their neighborhoods. And we ask them how we are failing to meet our mission and what we can do differently.

     Truthfully, the first time we asked, everyone said all their needs were met, and all answered My Cup of Tea was doing everything right. We know this is not true. Over time as we continued to ask and listen, desires and concerns have surfaced. We have taken steps to engage in the places they have identified both for their benefit and to solidify trust.

     Later this year, we will formalize the mentoring that has been occurring informally for a few years, now. These Orange Mound women are volunteering to be matched with women volunteers with whom they have developed a relationship or with whom they share multiple common interests. A primary goal is understanding – understanding struggles and obstacles the ladies face and how they would desire, or even if they desire, for someone to intervene.

     And we continue to pray together. Prayer happens daily at the House. Sometimes in a large group or a small group, and other times one-on-one spontaneously. When an employee feels safe and unjudged, she shares the circumstance for which she desires prayer, and that opens the door to conversation – the kind of conversation where she talks and we listen.

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Kintsugi: Embracing the Damage

Kintsugi: Embracing the Damage

  Kintsugi is an ancient and venerated Japanese tradition of mending and restoring broken porcelain with lacquer and powdered gold. Dated as early as the 15th Century, the unique method celebrates a vessel’s worn usage and fractures with applications of gold.  Rather than lamenting the loss, grieving the fractures, and discarding a special vessel, the artist gingerly holds and mends the pieces with a brush dipped in gold resin.  The object of attention becomes even more valuable to the owner than the original. The infinitesimal delicacy of the process gently brings beauty as it restores and redeems. The cherished treasure takes on character and unique beauty. The old-made-new vessel demands a high price but is rarely sold.

     In timeless design, we are each unique and eternally valuable. Created in God’s Image, our purpose is to live joyfully for His glory within community. Tragically and all too often through neglect, abuse, assault, and trauma, we break and shut down. Our default mode is to paste over our fractures in unhealthy ways, but never truly repair them. We often sink into despair, self-loathing, depression, anger, and loneliness. Research over the last 25 years has given scientists a new understanding of the resilience of our brains, and with it comes greater hope for healing with the help of therapy and better skilled mental health professionals.

     Refugees fleeing war zones are much on our minds now in 2022.  Our desire to aid them in some way has been heightened, and our compassion is palatable. My Cup of Tea has recently hired a refugee from Sudan, and our city awaits women who will eventually arrive from the war zones of Ukraine.  

     We in Orange Mound realize that we have had a mission field in our midst. Though not fleeing a Russian invasion, most of the women at My Cup of Tea are represented by the harsh statistics of those who have been treated inhumanely by family, neighbors, and strangers. Author and psychologist, Curt Thompson, MD writes in The Soul of Shame, and The Soul of Desire, that to be mentally physiologically healthy, we must be seen, safe, soothed, and secure.    Psychotherapy is not readily available or affordable in marginalized communities.  A supportive community must support the work of compassion and healing. Healing can begin when we are among friends who listen, empathize, embrace, and don’t judge us.  The courageous ladies of Orange Mound know they are seen at The House. They are safe within our fortress of prayer, and they are soothed by the salve of genuine friendships. The assurance of job security with us is unmatched by alternative work experiences in our neighborhood.  A trusted circle of sisters can do God-authored wonders.  There is no waiting room here because God’s golden repairs of the memory of the painful past are daily prescribed through grace, prayer, and being heard within the walls of The House.  He uses the trusted relationships and treasured confidences among our volunteers to redeem and restore.  Kintsugi is underway.  Sisters at My Cup of Tea are the tools, the brush, and the Spirit of God is the artist. Friendship cures the gold leaf applied to the wounds of our friends who have buried their sadness and feel alone in their burdens.

     Harm’s way is a commonly traveled pathway in Orange Mound.   The “exit ramp” is not well marked in poverty and the road is littered with shards and cracked porcelain vessels. Our mission is to be agents of God’s redemption. The beauty and elegance of a life valued, because of and not in spite of the fractures, renews and emboldens us to participate in the mission of Jesus. His call was and remains to find those who know they are broken, need repair, and feel overwhelmed and undervalued. He is saving and brushing gold where we are fractured.  He is healing us with His love and Words of Promise. Our own Kintsugi application is taught daily in the Gospel of Christ. In Him we are permanently seen, safe, soothed, secure AND restored.

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We're Hearing Voices

We're Hearing Voices

In the Dark Knight, the sequel to Batman Begins, the late Heath Ledger plays the Joker, arguably Batman’s most well-known nemesis. By most accounts, Ledger steals the show with his portrayal of the deeply disturbed villain and gifts moviegoers a slate of memorable quotes like this one:

“I know the voices in my head aren’t real, but sometimes their ideas are absolutely awesome.”

Sometimes the voices in our heads lead us to ideas and conclusions that aren’t so awesome. Those “voices” are shaped by our own experiences and influences. For example, if a person was raised in a rural community and traveled infrequently, she might have some preconceived notions about what living in a city is like, the way people who live there act, and what things are important to them. It’s natural. But our notions become problematic when we are convinced of their validity based on our own disparate experience.

Since the beginning of My Cup of Tea, we have prioritized ensuring that the voices of the women we serve are heard, valued, and heeded. Admittedly, we have succeeded at times and failed at others, but we continue to seek meaningful ways to amplifying their voices.

Most recently, we made some adjustments to the content of our YouTube series, She Steeps. To date, we have produced twenty-one episodes hosted by several different My Cup of Tea women. Most of the content has been focused on tea – how to properly steeps it, health benefits of drinking it, its history, and so on. The videos are interesting and informative but have been lacking in one critical element – an authentic voice.

So, we brought together a group of the women in a roundtable setting to discuss weightier issues than whether one should drink tea with their pinky up or down. Moderated by volunteer Shelley Hill, the women have taken on the topics of Martin Luther King, Jr – His Legacy and How We Should Honor It; Black History Month – Should We Celebrate It; and Does Memphis Have a Crime Problem and What are the Solutions.

We learned that the women thought Dr. King’s legacy was important and should be honored, but there was disagreement as to how it should be honored. Each had a different memory of how parents and grandparents instilled in them the messages of Dr. King and how it had impacted their lives.

All agreed that Black History should be celebrated and taught, but each had a different thought about how. One suggested that all cultures should have a month, week, or day and be celebrated. Each one was proud to be of African descent, but also proud to be an American.

And on the issue of crime in our community, each one has been personally affected, but they disagreed about whether crime is worse in Memphis than any other city.

There is much we can and have learned from the My Cup of Tea women. One is that the opinions of Black women are not monolithic despite what surveys and political polls might tell you. Another is that struggle and poverty do not equate to simplemindedness, but often incubates empathy and wisdom.

As we endeavor to hear and share the voices of the My Cup of Tea women, it is essential that we mute our own voices. Like our mothers and teachers used to tell us, “You can’t listen if you’re talking,” especially if you are only talking to yourself.

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The Honorable Word

The Honorable Word

     Recently a Tennessee politician posted to his Twitter account that our country needed to,

     “…return working families to honorable jobs rather than another government program.”

     At first blush, it may seem like a reasonable statement. Certainly, most people want a good paying job to care for their families. They would prefer to rely on their hard work, ingenuity, and creativity to make the ends meet than to receive government support.

     But on a closer look, it is one word that makes all the difference in the meaning of this statement.


     When put before the word “jobs” and no synonym is placed in front of “government,” the implication is clear. The author believes (and he’s not alone) that receiving support from the government is dishonorable.

     In nearly seven years of working in the Orange Mound community, we’ve learned at least two important things:

  1. Most of the poor residents we encounter are decent and honorable people, but because of a series of mistakes – some they must own and others not their fault – found themselves destitute with nowhere else to turn but to their government.


  1. The assumptions we often make about people who look and live differently than we are almost always wrong.


     Just within the walls of The House, we have witnessed the complex and multi-layered struggles of women striving for economic self-sufficiency.

     A month ago, one woman nearing retirement age had to reduce her hours. Why? She has an incurable disease that makes it hard to walk, sit, or, stand for long periods of time. This qualifies her to receive a modest disability payment from the federal government. The Social Security Administration told her she was making too much money working at My Cup of Tea and was in danger of losing her disability. Losing that support and then being forced to retire because of her illness or age would leave her unable to pay the basic expenses necessary to survive.

     Another woman, fought to overcome drug addiction and won after twenty-five years. She had an adequate job and a house. She was “turning the corner.” Six years ago, in the same month, she lost that job, and her special needs granddaughter came to live with her full time. She too is nearing retirement age and while My Cup of Tea had a job for her, until we grow more that job can only be part-time, so the aid she receives from Uncle Sam is necessary to care for her grandchild.

     We could tell similar stories for every woman who has worked at My Cup of Tea. But economic self-sufficiency is about more than just having an “honorable” job. Knowledge about how the world works is a scarce resource among many poor people. Knowledge many of us take for granted like how to look for a job, how to write a resume, or where to find access to a computer to write that resume is rare among the poverty stricken.

     Most of us when we search for a job leverage our networks. We talk to friends, family, and acquaintances. We often expand our search to all areas of the city, state, or region. We use job search apps and social media to connect with that college sorority sister who could put in a good word. And we rely on our work history to show we have the experience to do the job.

     Generally, poor people don’t have a network. If they do, it’s limited to a small geographic area where they currently live or were raised. Most of the poor lack significant work history to demonstrate employability. It’s not that they aren’t willing or capable of learning, but they can’t demonstrate past exposure to the tasks or skills necessary to do the job for which they are applying.

     Based on anecdotes from our neighbors in Orange Mound, it is likely that a high percentage of residents have never seen the Mississippi River or walked into a Starbucks, much less accessed the tools and people in any meaningful way necessary to find quality employment. Lack of exposure to the things we take for granted leads to a dearth of knowledge and the resources critical to becoming more economically self-reliant. Accepting government support is not the desire of most, but the necessity.

     At My Cup of Tea, we have long proclaimed the dignity of work, and our mission includes economic self-sufficiency for the women we serve. We’re working to provide the knowledge and resources necessary to thrive and reduce reliance on government support. But we also know that struggling financially, even for many years, and needing help to feed, clothe, and shelter your family is not dishonorable.

 “The righteous man knows the rights of the poor. A wicked man does not understand such knowledge.” - Psalm 29:7


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When Ice Melts Hard Hearts

When Ice Melts Hard Hearts

     Many homeowners in Shelby County staved off the brutally cold temperatures earlier this month, without power.  Muscle memory failed us with our wall switches. Uninspired meals using thawing meat, and warming dairy will not be missed, and all of us were earlier to bed without TV.  Body awareness peaked with no hot water for shaving or bathing.  The common response from the tens of thousands inconvenienced was “this has got to end soon!”

     My good friend, Dwayne Jones, has had a keen awareness that what we experienced acutely with harsh weather conditions is the chronic reality of the unhoused in our city. We sheltered in place, read by flashlight and warmed with layering and log burning.

     Meanwhile the short days of winter offered familiar long dark cold nights for the houseless. Charging a cell phone is a non-starter for them. A warm meal is barely recalled, and a hot shower is not a priority as it is rarely a possibility.  Most are not searching for a home but are looking for shelter from the rain and cold.  Dwayne has designed 5 very tiny apartments in a storage container and equipped them with a common generator and a portable potty outside.  He is as creative as he is compassionate and knows he can be part of the solution to the needs of those who are unfazed by grounded power lines on our sidewalks and broken tree limbs in our yards. Mr. Jones has fully stepped into the problem and has plans to build more of his temporary shelters.

     Dwayne’s passion and knowledge of the urgent need for shelter has put him at odds with land use and zoning requirements of the city. But as he told the Commercial Appeal,


“I don’t have six, eight months to go through all that. People are out here freezing to death, and right now, we’re in a crisis situation…people who are sitting up in cushy homes, they don’t care…

Now, I believe in rules. But sometimes, the rules don’t make moral sense.”


     As I was telling Dwayne’s story to our ladies, showing them the newspaper article, and lamenting the growing needs, one of our employees said, “That looks really good. How can I qualify to live in one?”  She has been living with relatives and will soon be turned out. She sleeps on the floor in a house without heat and is almost homeless herself. I assured her we will help her relocate, but it will be accomplished through prayer for God’s merciful guidance.

     Britney Thornton, founder of JUICE Orange Mound, opened a warming center that was recently shut down by Code Enforcement because it ran afoul of safety and zoning requirements.  She and Jones are co-laboring for those who have called O M their neighborhood but hold no stake in a mortgage or rent.  Their hope is to achieve home safety and modest creature comfort for the tormented and vulnerable men and women created in God’s image and lost in The City of the Blues.    

     The unhoused and soon-to-be unhoused are in residence here on curbs and benches, and cold floorboards.  A neighborhood like ours doesn’t get to choose its neighbor or ignore the responsibility to love them.

      I am blessed in watching our ladies provide food, water, and prayer for any in need who walk past our porch. They know that Orange Mound is not our real home, and what we do for the least is the same as doing it for Jesus.

     The Lord multiplies the efforts of Jones and Thornton and our MCOT employees. They feel they have been given much and are able to share from their abundance.  The abundance can be weighed on a scale of their heavy hearts for the broken lives and measured in the number of raised hands to volunteer to help them. They are teaching me to see the “invisible” people in our midst, hear their silent groans, touch the wounds of the untouchables, and ignore the pungent air that they breathe.

     Nine years ago, we thought we were bringing the knowledge of Jesus to OM, but now I have discovered Jesus has already been here and homeless since OM began. It was here Orange Mound’s “Founding Fathers and Mothers” built their first homes for their homeless families and erected 6 churches in which to worship Him.

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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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